Bananas, boobs and budgets

5 March 2017, 01:20 | Updated: 5 March 2017, 01:25


The Liberal Democrats are hoping to elicit the help of pro-Remain peers to help them ‘ping-pong’ amendments to the Brexit Bill between the houses.

The party has 102 peers in the Lords. This number infuriates some people because it is much larger than the number of Lib Dem MPs in the Commons, but 102 is about 16% of the number of Lords in the upper house, which is about where they were nationally just a few years ago. They polled 23% in the 2010 general election.

Ninety folding beds have been ordered by the party in preparation for all-night sessions so they can be ready to vote at any point during the night. This means that 12 may have to bunk up together.

A party strategist said: ‘We are planning for every eventuality and preparing for all-night sessions. If that means pizza delivery at 3am then so be it."

The intention is to defend the rights of 3.3million EU nationals who have made their home in Britain and to be allowed a final say on the terms negotiated for our exit from the EU.

This is also known as undermining The Will of the People.

What the people think is very important all of a sudden.

I do not recall MPs being so exercised about it before. In fact, they have a history of blithely dismissing what The People think, and with good reason.

The People think that Brussels insists we eat straight bananas, that EU laws are made in secret and imposed on us without debate, that the EU wants all flags but its own banned at sporting events, that good old British Bombay Mix be renamed Mumbai Mix, that the EU has designs on banning prawn cocktail crisps, that barmaids showing cleavage is against EU rules and that the evil EU bureaucracy want to ban Custard Creams.

The People particularly believe that the EU is so chock full of frauds, crooks and ne'er-do-wells that auditors have always refused to sign off on the EU's accounts.

None of that is true, but The People think that it is.

Let's not get bogged down in forbidden biscuits and boobs because that is so silly it is hard to believe that anyone thinks it to be true.

On the subject of fraud, The Court of Auditors has signed the EU accounts every year since 2007.

The problem arises in the individual countries once they receive the EU funds. The rate of misuse of these funds is about 4.4% of the total budget.

Misuse can take many forms and mostly it is counted as such if the country in question spends the money without regard to the applicable rules and regulations.

You've got to have some rules regarding how the money is spent or it would all go on sweets and comics.

The EU's accounts are scrutinised by the Court of Auditors, which checks what goes where.

As for actual fraud, the Court says it makes up about 0.2% of the EU budget. That is still a hefty chunk of change but it is better than the 0.7% of Britain's own benefit payments that were lost to fraud in 2013.

The Court of Auditors did point out that some of the funds - 4.4% of the total in 2014 - were not used in accordance with the EU rules. But they said typical cases involved roads or airports that were not used enough to justify the expense.

These funds are not even mostly administered by the EU. They dole the cash out and 80% of it is put to use by the individual countries themselves.

We do so poorly on this score that on 28 April 2016, our own, very British House of Commons Public Accounts Committee called on the UK government to improve how it spends EU funds.

The committee found that UK departments contribute "additional complexity" to the implementation of EU programmes, especially agricultural and rural development ones, which drives up errors.

If we meddled less, we would waste less.

As for being an out of control bureaucracy, the entire EU staff is about the same number as that employed by one-and-a-half typical British councils.

There are 46,000 people employed by the EU. That includes the Commission, the Parliament, the Council and the Court of Justice.

By contrast, 33,000 are employed by Birmingham City Council alone.

And they don’t have anyone regulating the straightness of their bananas either.