The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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The USA - friend or foe?

Roger Helmer MEP

At the last Strasbourg session of the European parliament, an Irish socialist MEP called De Rossa (honest - that's his name) got up on a point of order and attacked the USA for opposing the "International Criminal Court" (ICC), and for refusing to renew the UN mandate for peace-keeping in Bosnia until it had assurances that its soldiers would not be subject to the court.

pointing out that we had reason to be grateful to the USA for its commitment to peace-keeping in Europe... and ... the socialist side of the house was booing and jeering

I immediately responded, pointing out that we had reason to be grateful to the USA for its commitment to peace-keeping in Europe over many years - and before I had finished, the socialist side of the house was booing and jeering. It is a sad and extraordinary comment on the European parliament that roughly half of it is prepared to jeer at a positive comment on our greatest ally. I was delighted that a colleague, Charles Tannock, a London MEP and our Foreign Affairs spokesman, spoke in support of my point.

The USA has come in for a lot of criticism recently, on four key points.

They have imposed protectionist tariffs on steel imports. This will damage the industry in the UK, both directly and because third countries, in Asia for example, will seek to direct more exports to Europe to make up the short-fall in the USA.

They have agreed a massive increase in farm subsidies in the USA. This further distorts the world trade in agricultural products, it makes life harder for British farmers, and it undermines those of us who are arguing the global case for free trade, open markets and lower subsidies.

They have decided not to sign up for the Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change. And they have declined to sign up for the ICC either.

I believe that the first two complaints have considerable force. As a friend of America, I looked to them as champions of free trade and liberal markets, and I feel badly let down that they seem to have turned their backs on their principles. Clearly these measures are aimed at their domestic political agenda, with mid-term elections due in November. I have heard a European Commission spokesman suggest that the measures are also intended to strengthen the US negotiating hand ahead of the Geneva WTO round which is just getting under way. Let's hope they re-think their position soon.

But the USA has a much stronger case on Kyoto and the ICC. The best estimates of the effect of Kyoto suggest it will cost hundred of billions of pounds to western economies over coming decades. We - and our children and grandchildren - will be poorer because of it. That might be OK if it would do any good, but scientific estimates suggest that even if Kyoto were implemented in full (which it won't be), the effect would be no more than a fifth of a degree in average global temperatures by 2050 - almost too small to measure. Of course the environment is vitally important, but we should still see if proposed measures are cost-effective.

And the ICC runs a serious risk of being hi-jacked by judicial activists and left-wing lawyers. Of course we should pursue crimes against humanity, as we did at Nuremberg. But the USA is right to fear that soldiers and peace-keepers, doing their best in difficult circumstances, may be hauled before the court.

The USA recognises that the first task of a nation is to protect its citizens through its own courts. Tragically, our British Labour government has failed this test. Not only has it recognised the ICC - it has also adopted the Euro-pean Arrest Warrant. This means that we can be sent to other jurisdictions, without the protection of the British courts, of trial by jury or of habeas corpus, and possibly even for actions which are not illegal in Britain.

Anyone who followed the plight of the British plane spotters in Greece will see the problem. I just wish that our government had the same respect for the rights of its citizens that the US has.