A Sad Farewell
Welcome to my extra-long blog this week. Sadly, this is my last writing in my short-lived role as a Green MEP for the North West. What an amazing experience it has been, and I want to say again: a huge thank you to everyone who supported or voted for the Green Party in May 2019 to enable me to represent the North West in the European Parliament.
It’s incredibly difficult to summarise the emotions I have experienced during these last two weeks. But, due to the amazing work of my wonderful team of staff, both in Brussels and the North West, we have been industrious and maximizing the time we have left on research reports, event launches and parliamentary business right up until the last minute.
There is little to compare these recent weeks to. It’s deeply saddening, clearly historic, yet very moving. The warmth and respect shown to the UK by all the other MEPs and people working on all levels in the European institutions is so clearly sincere. There were incredibly moving speeches in the penultimate plenary session about the tremendous contribution that the UK has made to shape the EU of today, from (almost) all the political groupings in the Parliament.
My favourite quote during the debate in the European Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement was by Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens/EFA group:
“In Europe, there are two types of countries; small countries, and those who have yet to realise how small they are.”
The Greens in Europe have such vision, and although leaving it all behind is hard, I am taking so much with me when I go. From the experience of working on the Horizon Research and Innovation programme; memories of numerous cross-cultural and cross-group events; wonderful connections made not just here in Brussels but including the many organisations and individuals I have met in the North West, and several reports that we have published over the last few months.
Withdrawal Agreement Debate
Only 49 MEPs, which certainly included all the UK Greens, voted against ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement. As a UK MEP, I don’t feel the deal we have is good for the UK or for Europe, and I worry about the difficulties to come. However, Molly Scott Cato repeated our joint desire to continue current links with our European neighbours, extend friendships groups, and revive pre-EU membership initiatives, such as town-twinning.
Also, we issued a statement following the Withdrawal Agreement vote, from the seven UK Green MEPs on the final vote this week, which neatly summarises our position:
“In spite of the powerful campaign waged by Greens and many others for almost four years, with a deep sense of regret and grief, we accept that the UK will leave the EU this Friday. But Brexit isn’t done; the negotiations over the nature of our future relationship are only just beginning.
“Europe is a beacon of peace in the world, upholding human rights, leading the world on climate change, protecting our environment and safeguarding consumer standards. And we believe that in the months ahead pro-Europeans, who would prefer us to remain in the EU and who make up at least half the electorate, have a right to help shape our future relationship with Europe.
“So, we urge the Prime Minister to aim for a settlement that maintains the vital legal protections offered by our EU membership. For Greens, this must include freedom of movement, a privilege we are proud to champion because it offers the chance to live, work and form relationships across 27 other countries.
“It is particularly important for our young people that we maintain the closest possible relationship with our European neighbours as we know they are considerably more pro-European than older generations. It is their future that is being limited by leaving the EU. So, while now is not the time to campaign to re-join the EU, we will nonetheless aspire to this in the future.”
Final sponsored visit to the European Parliament
Last week I hosted my fourth and final visitor group to the European Parliament in Brussels. Students from Manchester Metropolitan University, developing future alternative energies, as well as Pro-EU and climate campaigners from the North West joined me in Brussels, and as on previous visits to Parliament, there was much awe and wonder at what goes on here.
I am delighted to say that one of the visitors from the group has written a genuinely insightful account of her experience.
“I believe this country has slammed the door on a system it does not understand and will regret doing so. I believe we are depleted economically and culturally as a result and fear the coming isolation will cast us into deeper internal conflict, division and inequality.”
You can read Miranda Cox’s write up in a guest post here.
The Sustainable and Active Transport Report
Last Friday, I launched a report in Lancaster, written and researched by well-respected transport experts, which highlights what sustainable transport systems could look like in different communities across the North West.
In a full and engaged room, I was delighted to be able to promote this follow-up to The Green New Deal in the North West report which we launched last year, with more details on an action plan for low-carbon sustainable transport.
The idea behind it is to have a functional and workable plan to decarbonise transport in the North West. Carbon emissions are still rising within the transport sector and so a transformation in the North West region is essential to meet the demands of the climate crisis. Our new report demonstrates that a sustainable and fairer travel network is both possible and achievable, with huge benefits across the board, such as high-quality jobs, reducing isolation in communities, and better health outcomes.
All local authorities, indeed, all those responsible at a sub-national level for climate plans, transport, health and economic development, can and must ensure that investing in public transport – including walking and cycling infrastructure, to achieve far fewer journeys made by car.
You can download the transport report here.
The Role of Research in Achieving the Outcomes of the European Green Deal
AS Greens/EFA representative on Horizon Europe, I co-hosted a workshop about the key role of research and innovation in the European Green Deal last week.
The European Green Deal is this Commission’s flagship programme, settings the EU on a clear path of accelerated decarbonisation and its implementation. Research and innovation will be key in delivering these goals, however, the exact role and potential of R&I in this historic proposal is still fairly unclear.
We need research and innovation to deal with the challenges facing society. From tackling climate change to digitalisation and maintaining European industrial.
The workshop looked at the recently released E3G report Delivering Climate Neutrality: Accelerating EU Decarbonisation with Research and Innovation Funding.
We also presented eminent examples of how innovation leads to market success. Northvolt is Europe’s leading battery start-up, offering crucial lessons on the future of European industry, with their expanding company which produces batteries in Sweden and they have a full commitment to component recycling.
Additional presentations were given by EIT InnoEnergy, a knowledge and innovation community delivering practical innovation, fostering the creation of start-ups and entrepreneurial spirit to support European industry as it undergoes vital transformations. The Jacques Delors Energy Centre, a Europe-based think tank, talked about the social dimension of clean energy innovation.
MEPs urge Commission to End Double Standards on Trade With Occupied Territories
Just two days before leaving the EU, I chaired a Roundtable discussion on EU Trade with Occupied Territories. Along with three other MEPs from France, Ireland and Denmark representing both Greens and S&D groups we had organised this event to bring together legal and policy experts to debate the divergent and piecemeal approaches of the EU towards trade with occupied territories such as Western Sahara and of course Palestine.
We heard the details of how on one side, the EU imposed sanctions on Russia in relation to the occupation of Crimea, while on the other, it has included the territory of Western Sahara in its bilateral agreements with the occupying power, Morocco. In Palestine, experts highlighted the lack of implementation of EU rules concerning the correct labelling of Israeli settlement products. Towards other situations of occupation such as Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh or Northern Cyprus, participants considered the EU’s approach as a best practice to be emulated.
You can read more in our press release here.
Farewell to my European Colleagues
Brexit is finally happening. There were almost too many moments to say farewell – often with tears, hugs, and small gifts exchanged.
With our European friends, there is a real energy to ensure we keep the friendship ties strong in the coming years and door open to be one day welcomed back. There were beautiful memes and messages carrying the hashtag #LeaveALightOn and #SeeYouSoon.
Terry Reintke, a German Green MEP, said:
“Friday night will be a sad night for millions of Europeans. There is a call to light a candle in your window during the night:
“A light for continued friendship.
“A light for our common home Europe.
“A light for a common future.
“I will join and show my solidarity.”
The UK Green MEPs returned the gesture with a bit of adapted Shakespearean rhyme. Here is a sample:
The time has come to say goodbye to you,
Our eyes are full, our hearts are torn in two;
But this is not “Goodbye” but “See you soon!”.
For Auld Lang Syne we’ll sing a happy tune
Stay friends! I do not want to say farewell!
It’s far too soon, I’ve still so much to do,
So much to say, such urgent truths to tell
On Palestine, research, and fracking too.
Just hear me now! I’ve not yet had my say!
It won’t take long! We do not go away,
Into obscurity. We fight to win.
Against dark forces. Let the task begin!
I took the train from Brighton week-by-week.
I battled Brexit, sought a Green New Deal;
Equality for genders too I seek.
What next, I wonder, now that Brexit’s real?
The East of England sent me, their first Green,
To serve a term, to put the planet first,
Seek change from planes to trains, make seas more clean
To work for human rights, where wrongs are worst.
It gives us hope to know that you are here,
Campaigning for the values we hold dear:
For fairness, justice and equality;
Climate, nature, sustainability.
Too soon our time with you is at an end;
With heavy hearts we part this hallow’d ground.
Keep warm my seat for now my trusted friend,
Till tyranny is crushed and hope is found.
I must also say a final massive thanks to my wonderful team of staff – without them, none of this would have been possible.
Meanwhile this week…
An invitation to join a panel discussion during a public event outside the Parliament was an opportunity for me to finally launch my report What’s on the Horizon for UK Science, Research & Innovation? This report looks at the impact of EU funding on UK research and its crucial role in solving society’s greatest challenges, from the climate emergency to life-saving healthcare. We emphasised the importance of future research funding to meet these local, regional and global challenges, highlighting the huge range of projects already underway in the UK through the existing Horizon 2020 scheme, and drawing attention to the risks that Brexit poses by severing or attenuating our links with Horizon Europe.
You can download the report and read more here.
The Green MEP delegation wrote on behalf of EU citizens, to Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. We are very concerned with how citizens are being treated. As MEPs, we have been receiving letters from distraught citizens from the EU27 since the 2016 referendum. Residents are seeing their lives being changed, with any plans they made on the basis of an existing legal situation, being undermined in a way that causes them considerable distress. In this context, the very least we can do is to provide them with the maximum level of reassurance and protection.
You can read our letter here.
Where hope lies:
In between all these events in Brussels, I also attended the North West Green Party Annual General Meeting in Whiston, and I am pleased to announce that I was elected Chair of the region. This role is something I look forward to taking on at this crucial time for the climate and our Party.
Working for the North West in this capacity gives me an opportunity to help boost the party membership and support efforts to get new councillors elected in May. It also gives me another ‘hat’, along with my position as Lancashire County Councillor and Lancaster City Councillor roles, where I will continue to promote the Green Party.
My fellow UK Green MEPs and I are going back to the UK to work tirelessly on all of the things that need to be done to turn the climate emergency into solutions for a safer, fairer and protected future.
I look forward to keeping you in touch with my work now as Lancashire County Councillor and Lancaster City Councillor.
Thank you to you all for the support I’ve had in my role as MEP!
Onwards and with continued hope, with a final send-off message to us all from our friends, The Greens, in European Parliament:
“We will keep the light on.”