The mood has, of course, changed in Europe now, the sense of an impending end and unclear view of what the next stage of our relationship with the EU will be. There was a feeling of gloom amongst UK MEPs (except of course the Brexit group) that we could see on the faces of our Green colleagues and those of all the parties. It’s absolutely clear that across the Parliament over the last four decades, UK MEPs have been highly valued for their contribution and what they bring to the Parliament. And I would say amongst those, the Greens are held in particularly high esteem.
The demands of the job, however, go on, and the vital work of the European Parliament continues. This week, a group of visitors from the North West (the fourth visit I’ve arranged) went to Strasbourg. Discussions touched on the UK elections, but much of the time, my work was around international affairs.
Speaking on Brexit
In the European Parliament plenary, I was given speaking time to discuss the UK general election result and Brexit. My speech is below but I also want to quote first, the remarks of European President, Ursula von der Leyen:
She warned that a cliff-edge Brexit at the end of 2020 will hurt the UK more than the EU as she laid out her intentions to “make the most” out of the “extremely challenging” 11 months available to strike a trade deal.
“In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020 we will face again a cliff-edge situation and this would clearly harm our interests but it will impact the UK more than us as the EU will continue benefiting from its single market its customs union and the 70 international agreements we signed with our partners – but it’s clearly not in our interest.”
Von der Leyen said she would not miss the Brexit party MEPs, as they heckled her speech, but she offered her condolence to those parties who had campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU.
“If I look at our very brave remain MEPs I can only say, I’m sorry, we will miss you. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for having been at our side. We will never miss those who scream and yell.”
Thank you Madam Chair,
Sadly, for all of us who think the European Union offers the best future for the UK and the rest of Europe, we now have to face the reality of Brexit.
Last week the European Council reiterated its commitment to a level playing field in standards and regulations in trade between the EU and the UK, but the new UK government already threatens to break its commitments.
We now have a serious risk to workers’ rights and environmental protections, to parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, and therefore, a risk again of the possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year.
This parliament, elected on proportional representation, demonstrates of all that can be achieved by nations working together in co-operation, representing citizens against global corporate business interests; and in confronting the global challenges of climate change, social injustice and the ecological crisis.
Citizens of Europe look to their governments to protect them against the vested interest of financial and property millionaires, and corporate power.
Many of us in the UK will continue to look to the best in the EU to overcome those challenges.
Visitors to EU Parliament from the North West
We are trying to make sure that more North West constituents get the chance to experience the EU institutions, albeit at a very sad time, as we know we are leaving. This is the fourth visit my team and I have arranged since taking office and every visit has been such an amazing experience.
On Wednesday, we welcomed a sponsored visitor group from the North-West region to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We originally were due to host around 25 visitors, but due to strike action in France, the final number of participants was 12. The ones who made it had to endure a tough journey to get there, and we hope the ones who could not make it will have a chance in January before we leave.
The day began with an opportunity for the visitors to meet some Green MEPs, hear a bit about their work and ask them questions. We were lucky to have MEPs Molly Scott Cato, Terry Reintke and Ellie Chowns, who took time out of their busy schedule to meet the visitor group of Green and Remain activists.
All the MEPs spoke of their profound sadness at the prospect of the UK leaving the EU. Molly outlined her disappointment in not being able to continue her work on important projects going forward, such as Green financing and the European Green Deal. Terry, who is a German MEP, gave a passionate account of her love for the UK and her difficulty in coming to terms with the UK leaving. She told visitors that after the election result on Friday, she moved fast to set up a Friends of Britain group in the Parliament, made up of MEPs willing to continue their relationship with the UK going forward. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with a huge number of MEPs from all over Europe having already signed up. Ellie, in explaining how she went from a university lecturer to MEP, was also able to uplift the mood by encouraging people to get involved in Green politics at the local level because it is possible to make a difference. I would like to wholeheartedly thank all of my amazing and inspirational colleagues for taking the time to meet our visitors.
After the session, the group went inside the Plenary, where they watched my speech in the hemicycle on Brexit. I was pleased they got a chance to see the plenary in action, although sadly, Nigel Farage spoke shortly after myself so visitors were unable to see first-hand, the carry-on pantomime that is usually performed by the Brexit Party MEPs at every plenary session. Afterwards, I was able to speak to our visitors, where I outlined my work in Parliament and answered questions.
To conclude, there was also a talk by the visitor centre staff on the history of the EU and the Parliament.
When I spoke to the visitors at the end of the day, you could feel a general sadness they felt in leaving behind an institution that they firmly believe can offer them the best future.
However, there were also little moments of hope – particularly the sense of solidarity from our European friends and the confirmation that there will be a collaborative relationship in the future between the UK and the EU. If there is anything we should not do, is lose hope.
We are not alone!
Palestine & Israel
This week, I attended a meeting of both delegations for relations with Israel and relations with Palestine.
The focus at the Palestine meeting centred around how to ensure that the EU member states only import correctly labelled products from the illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. And while the Greens are calling for a total ban on these products, the EU position, recently reinforced by the European Court of Justice decision, is that products should be labelled so that the consumer knows the province.
We heard from specialist speakers that a recent survey showed only 10 per cent of wines sold by online sales from EU outlets and produced within illegal settlements, are correctly labelled as such. Wines are the one sector that is relatively easy to monitor, so these findings understate the problem. Ethical issues are clear: a third of settlement vineyards are based on private Palestinian land (confiscated land). Palestinian agricultural areas have decreased by one third in recent years.
Meanwhile this week…
Although we will be leaving on the 31 of January, I aim to do and achieve as much as I can until then. There has been much interest in the future role of hydrogen and in my role on the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. I am planning a workshop in the European Parliament to make an impact on both the Green groups and Parliament’s views on hydrogen. In our report on The Green New Deal in the North West, we highlighted the potential role hydrogen technology will play a key role in the transition of some sectors, but it is essential we underline that it must be fully renewables-based hydrogen.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning a new Russian law this week. This new law forces an individual who distributes information on the internet and receives money from any foreign source, to brand him or herself as a “foreign agent”.
This is the latest attempt of the Russian government to prevent journalists from doing their job; hindering independent and investigative journalism from scrutinising those in power.
Russia’s efforts to interfere with the media also concerns the UK. Propaganda and disinformation is a serious threat to our democracy and it’s becoming clear how systemic Russian efforts to influence democracies are.
After last week’s elections, Putin and his cronies have a new ally in Downing Street. Until recently, Boris Johnson blocked the publication of the report into Russian interference in UK politics; only clearing it for release after voters can no longer hold him accountable.
The Tories also deceived voters through online ads featuring outright lies and disinformation, while also setting up accounts such as “Factcheck UK” to mislead voters.
Like Putin, this is just another way of preventing journalists from scrutinising those in power. Another way of withholding information from the public to mislead voters. Another way to gain supporters and demonise opposition by spreading lies.
With the Tory party cosying up to Russian methods of misleading voters, it is becoming clear that Boris Johnson is a threat to our democracy. Spreading hate and lies to gain and keep political power and pulling our country apart in the process.
In the coming years, we will have to fight the government’s lies. We will have to hold them and the media accountable. Fighting for independent and critical journalism that is not a mouthpiece for the Downing Street spin machine. That is the only way to fix our broken democracy.
Where hope lies
It’s a mixed ‘where hope lies’ this week, tinged with optimism in a sad situation. This week saw the awarding of the Sakharov Prize to Ilham Tohti. His daughter, Jewher Ilam, received the prize in his stead, due to his imprisonment. She hasn’t heard from her father since 2017 and has no information from authorities about him whatsoever.
Ilham is a renowned Uyghur human rights defender, economics professor and advocate of the rights of China’s Uyghur ‘minority’ population. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison for his activism following a two-day show trial in 2014. Millions of Uyghur are forced into and held in so-called ‘re-education centres.’, which are huge concentration camps in China.
This prize though is so valued by human rights defenders as it helps shine a much needed international light on their plights and protect them for further human rights abuses. Ilham’s daughter works tirelessly on his behalf, in fear also for her freedom and that of her family but carrying on because to raise the profile of the Uyghur people, is their only hope.
Our Greens/EFA coordinator of foreign affairs in the European Parliament, one of the proposers for this years prize, said:
“The Uyghur are suffering from the worst police state that exists in the globe today.”
It was humbling to meet Jewher and witness her bravery and honour; she is an example of the importance of citizens continuing to fight injustice whether that’s against authoritarian governments or the interests of corporate big business. The hope is in those who fight on regardless of the risks they personally face or the sacrifices.