THE more observant of those who have an interest in British parliamentary politics might just have detected an ever-so-slight reluctance on the part of our elected representatives in the Lower House to legislate for the United Kingdom finally to exit the European Union. Some of the members of the democratically elected portion of the legislature seem to have experienced discomfort after the democratic vote in 2016, where before this vote, they declared their unquestioning willingness to respect its outcome. Some of them have now decided to revoke the vote. Many others have actively voted against the vote. While it was reasonable to vote against exiting the European Union at the referendum in 2016, continuing to vote that way at every opportunity, now that the matter has almost been taken out of the hands of the voting public, seems curious. Some people might think that some Members of Parliament are extremely sore losers. Certainly they have not been entirely sporting over the matter after the public made their decision known.
One reason for regular outbursts of unsportingness in the House of Commons might be of a spiritual nature. The European Ideal of peace after two destructive wars, where countries co-operate for the benefit of all, is quite appealing. The ability to travel across the continent by just flashing a burgundy passport and nothing more at national borders appeals to the free spirit. Cosmopolitanism is chic for its affected sophistication. However, politicians are not meant to be incurable romantics all the time, lest they initiate grands projets that appeal on paper and in the heads of well-thinking folk which turnout in reality to be elephants blancs. We can but hope that our elected representatives are not so motivated too much of the time and thus have no need of the modern equivalent of a Roman slave to remind them of their mortality.
There might be another reason why a proportion of those elevated by ballot wish to remain in what seems to be a realisation of Mitteleuropa complete with its own Kaiserreich. There was an act passed in 2017 that emended the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The Criminal Finances Act (CFA) added provisions to allow the investigation of unexplained wealth. It may come as a surprise to some readers, but it is entirely possible that if one of their former neighbours has traded in a battered 2002 Mark V Ford Fiesta for a Bentley Mulsanne W.O. Edition, appears better dressed, fed, and coiffed, and is moving into a larger house bought for cash, this might not necessarily be because they recently scooped the jackpot prize in the twice-weekly EuroMillions Lottery Draw. Instead, it could be because they have managed illegally to launder trillions of Nairas through their bank account for a Nigerian Prince after receiving an email from out of the blue, which, in all fairness, is almost, but not quite, like a lottery win. Or something like that.
The CFA introduced the UWA, or Unexplained Wealth Order thus:
(1) These are the requirements for the making of an unexplained wealth order in respect of any property.
(2) The High Court must be satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe that
(a) the respondent holds the property, and
(b) the value of the property is greater than £50,000.
(3) The High Court must be satisfied there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the known sources of the respondent’s lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient for the purposes of enabling the respondent to obtain the property.
The CFA suggests how these gains might have been ill-gotten by the respondent. It is either through criminality or because the respondent is a ‘politically exposed person’. Such a person is defined later in the act as ‘an individual who is, or has been, entrusted with prominent public functions by an international organisation or by a State. . . ‘
And this is meat of the act. If a politician has declared interests, such as consultancy, for which he or she receives remuneration, but their wealth far exceeds what their total income would have obtained, then they will have to justify such abundance. Even on the grounds of statistics alone there might be at least one rotten apple in the barrel of great and good we entrust with our votes. But wait a minute. The same clause goes on: ‘. . . other than the United Kingdom or another EEA (European Economic Area) State’.
So there you have it. Political corruption starts east of Poland, west of Ireland, south of Italy, north of Sweden. All politicians in the European Economic Area are as pure as the driven snow.
We know this is not the case. Even in the UK we know that MPs have a sense of entitlement to money they have not earned. Ten years ago, a disturbing number were caught blatantly and grossly fiddling expenses, massively exploiting the lax rules. Five MPs went to jail when their exploitation was found to involve fraud, one avoiding incarceration through having a public mental breakdown.
Once the UK leaves the EU, it might also exit the EEA, especially if the UK exits with No Deal. The CFA stinks of a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement with politicians in other EU countries. It might be that some parliamentarians needed several years to arrange their affairs comfortably to evade inevitable scrutiny, if the CFA be amended, as it should be, to remove this offensive immunity clause. This might explain why some MPs vote over Brexit they way they do.
The fact that this clause exists in the first place is a cheat. MPs have voted themselves immunity from investigations of corruption. It is the kind of harmonisation with a recognised EU political standard we could have done without. Crooks and charlatans have no place in Parliament. Once there, obstacles to finding them out should not exist.