European Parliament group led by Ukip collapses

Eurosceptic party set to lose access to millions of euro in funding

The dissolution of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group will be a significant blow to  Ukip as it prepares for next May’s general election in Britain.  Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

The dissolution of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group will be a significant blow to Ukip as it prepares for next May’s general election in Britain. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

 

A political group in the European Parliament led by the UK Independence Party collapsed yesterday following the defection of a Latvian MEP.

The dissolution of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group means that Ukip will lose access to millions of euro in funding and speaking time at the parliament.

EU rules state that political groups must have MEPs from at least seven EU countries. The decision by Iveta Grigule to quit the group left it with representatives from just six member states, resulting in the dissolution of the group, a parliament spokesman said.

While no reason was given for Ms Grigule’s move, it is believed that the decision is linked to ongoing talks about the formation of a government in Latvia. Ukip accused senior members of the European Parliament of “political blackmail” by forcing Ms Grigule to leave the group.

Successor group

Nigel FarageFive Star Movement

The dissolution will be a significant blow to Ukip as it prepares for next May’s general election in Britain. Membership of the group was estimated to be worth about £1 million annually to the party.

Ukip secured more votes than any other party in Britain in the European elections. Last week it took its first seat in Westminster when Douglas Carswell won a byelection in Clacton-on-Sea.

Mr Carswell left the Conservative Party and joined Ukip in August, prompting fears of further defections as British prime minister David Cameron struggles to placate Eurosceptics in his party. The party faces another byelection next month in Rochester following the defection of Troy MP Mark Reckless to Ukip.

Mr Cameron’s proposed referendum on EU membership, and debate about a renegotiation of EU free movement rules, are expected to feature heavily in the British general election debate.

Mr Cameron, who has said he favours Britain remaining within a “reformed” EU, is facing pressure to prove that he is securing changes from Brussels. However, other EU leaders have insisted that treaty change is not on the table.

There has been speculation in recent weeks that Mr Cameron may announce an initiative on immigration ahead of the Rochester byelection, including the possibility that an “emergency brake” measure could be invoked to halt migration into Britain in certain circumstances. Whether this could be sanctioned within the existing EU treaty is highly uncertain.

Administrative savings

The report, by a high-level EU group led by Germany politician Edmund Stoiber, was also welcomed by Irish MEP Brian Hayes as an important potential boost for Irish businesses.

The findings are likely to be seized by Britain as an example of the changes that can be made to the EU system.