Art, Extinction Rebellion & Brexit

For all that this week has been, there has at least been a focus on the environment despite the overwhelming, ongoing and seemingly never-ending wrangling over how much we’re willing to sacrifice for a Conservative Brexit deal. Extinction Rebellion has succeeded in getting the attention for the environment that it so urgently needs and although not all will agree with the tactics, it has been inspiring to see so many engaged. Brexit, however, seems to be turning now into a game of one-upmanship manoeuvres rather than a serious attempt to get what’s best for the country. It is clear that “getting Brexit done” actually means many years more of this. I had a brief pause to enjoy the better things of life in Burnley at ‘art & Soul, plus an invite to a very positive seminar at Lancaster University on the future of hydrogen in our energy mix – the North West so often delivers the highlights of my weeks!

Green Study Days 

The European Green group chose to come to London for our ‘study days’. In essence, it is a time-out to look at planning priorities of the group for the next five years’ mandate, for both the legislative process in the European Parliament but also in our campaign work to move our Green objectives up the agenda. 

The Greens’ heartwarming commitment to internal democracy was fully evident and manifested in the following guiding political objectives being adopted:

  • Fight climate change and protect biodiversity
  • Make our society fair and equal
  • Protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms
  • Make Europe an open and inclusive society
  • Put the digital revolution at the service of the people
  • Make the EU a change-maker in the world
  • Campaign for a feminist EU advancing gender equality and all forms of diversity

The decision to show solidarity with us newly-elected UK MEPs was so appreciated and London was abuzz with Extinction Rebellion activities.

Extinction Rebellion

Out first evening event for the study days in London held just metres from Trafalgar Square, hosted a rousing welcome speech from George Monbiot, the police decided to abruptly change tack, close all forms of XR protest and clear the Trafalgar Square of people and possessions.

Our own Ellie Chowns MEP was arrested while demanding to know under what powers this was happening, and in the following days co-leader Jonathan Bartley and George Monbiot, after speaking at a defiant ‘standing room only’ protest in Trafalgar Square – now not just about climate but about protecting the very right to protest – were themselves arrested. Our visiting Green MEPs from Europe were shocked by such a turn of events. What unusual times we live in.

There is always of course criticism about some of the tactics used in campaigns and protest and nothing will be perfectly acceptable to everyone: Extinction Rebellion HAVE succeeded in getting the climate on the news agenda and continue to be a group many are turning to in the absence of real action from governments. Across the world, XR (like the school strikes) has finally created an outlet for the frustration, anger and fear at the threat to our future. Raising awareness of the pollution, toxins, over-farming, plastics, the extinction of so many species and the suffering of those in areas already impacted by droughts and floods made worse by worsening climate change is vital if we’re to find solutions.

Hydrogen 

The Lancaster Hydrogen Hub workshop, exploring opportunities for developing a local hydrogen-based economy ties in well with my forthcoming report on what the Green New Deal would mean for the North West. I arrived to see the hydrogen-powered bicycle and off-road buggy in action. Among other developments, there were examples from Arcola in Liverpool about their hydrogen bus project and hydrogen for heavy transport, and Lancaster-based Nanosun presented information about hydrogen storage, distribution and dispensing. The key to hydrogen energy filling a future energy gap is that the process of producing it, electrolysis, itself uses renewable energy – and there is every potential for that to be the case. Really exciting stuff! 

 ‘art & Soul

A fantastic cultural, educational and uplifting event in Burnley organised so professionally by my North West staff, together with local professional artists and hosted at Burnley’s new flagship digital hub, the Landmark. ‘art & Soul brought Marc Francesch Camps, Director of ConArte Internacional, based in Girona, to share with us his experiences of the power of art to unite and empower communities and raise the profile of towns.

The discussions at the event showed positive answers on how the creation of new cultural experiences especially for children can redefine the town for visitors, investors and residents in all its communities; how art and culture could play a crucial role in the regeneration of Burnley; and how funding can be found if there is political will to do so.

Marc’s work on the unique ‘Planters’ (‘seedlings’) Project, an artist-led social cohesion project delivered with schools across the region of Girona in Spain, proved just how much can be achieved. We were treated to films of the wonderful performances of children’s orchestras who come from a wide range of socially and economically deprived areas. Local artist Jai Redman and producer Ian Brownbill explored how artists can play a leading role in generating economic and social capital, artist-led projects. The whole day was recorded so that we can share the highlights and the conclusions of this really inspiring workshop. 

Brexit

Johnson’s deal is considered worse than May’s by nearly all but the hard-right MPs, and has exposed his deliberate move towards isolating ourselves from Europe, diluting of regulations and standards, loss of rights and putting power in the hands of a Conservative Government. It risks the single market in terms of environment, social standards, tax avoidance, and creates risks of smuggling across the borders in Ireland. Some argue it will almost certainly lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

As Caroline Lucas argued yesterday in Parliament, if anybody is capable of looking ahead, it is clear that in this deal, no-deal has simply been delayed until the end of the transition period, by which time we will have no rights to call for extension and will be entirely in power of EU.

It is extraordinary that Parliament would support such a destructive deal merely because of ‘Brexit fatigue’ but that appeared to be the situation yesterday. 

Our Prime Minister is not going to let the bothersome rules of Parliament get in his way of what is clearly his desire for a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. We wait to see how the European Heads of Government react to his latest sent-but-not-signed letter and with I-don’t-mean-it-really note asking for an extension, and at home, whether Labour can pull their rebels in line.

It’s important to remember in this, the powerful elites who are counting on making millions from no-deal by betting against the UK economy in the hedge fund markets. 

Meanwhile this week

Good

75 Green MEPs in one place is always a delight and when that place is London, it’s a genuine honour. Choosing London this year for the annual gathering was done to make it clear that the Greens stand firmly together for a People’s Vote and a longing for the UK to remain close, and for the day that Brexit is not the subject that drowns out all else.

Bad

Almost everything to do with Johnson’s deal, but particularly Michael Gove, in an interview stating as if absolute fact: “A second referendum ain’t going to happen… there’s no way we’re having a second referendum…Parliament is not going to vote for a second referendum.” His words making clear he believes the power lies with him and this minority Conservative government, with Parliament having no say!  It seems that the way ahead is paved with endless stages of Brexit that will go on for many years. ‘Yes’ to the Johnson deal would actually mean the end only of the very first chapter of the beginning of “getting Brexit done” (said someone else on BBC yesterday). 

Where hope lies

Hope that the determination of the public, as witnessed by the estimated one million people in London for the Let Us Be Heard march yesterday, will convince MPs to move us positively forward from this mess of the Conservative government’s making AND ensure that we have secured the long-term best interests of the country. What we have in being part of Europe is by far the greatest opportunity to tackle together the big cross-border issues of climate breakdown, trafficking, crime, public health for our greater good.

As I write, I am less optimistic but still hopeful that the convincing arguments to move to a People’s Vote to solve the crisis will win out and if not, that then perhaps the more drastic need for a Government of National Unity.  

I have just booked my Eurostar ticket for going to Strasbourg for the plenary week tomorrow 

Onward


 

Youth, Truth and Reason

Leading this week’s thoughts and therefore this summary, the global #ClimateStrike that took place on Friday. The scenes unfolding on the news as each location started their day, were quite breathtaking! Young, hopeful, enthusiastic faces filled the screens and the streets with determination and clear messages. I joined two of our North West strikes, in Preston and Lancaster and came away revitalised after a busy week that started in Strasbourg on Monday. Along with fellow MEPs, we took a vote on a Resolution prompted by the potential for a ‘no-deal Brexit’ and the prorogation of UK parliament. Later in the week, on the eve of the climate strikes, Green MEPs led the call for a fracking ban – I hope you got to see the video. I also attended the Lancashire County Council meeting to discuss pensions.

#ClimateStrike

It’s the power of the people that demands parliamentarians address climate issues that have been for far too long, ignored. Nothing has had more impact than the call from the young climate strikers that started with the inspirational Greta Thunberg just one year ago.

On Friday, as I joined two amazing events (Preston and Lancaster) I was so buoyed by the energy and determination I saw. The young particularly, speaking such clear, plain, truths to power; it made me wonder why it is such a surprise to hear such honesty? I think it was Greta who said that it’s because the young have no concern for ‘Power’s’ view of them, so they can speak with without thinking of the consequences to themselves, whereas adults speak with the concerns of reputation etc. Every young hand that took a microphone on Friday, broadcast what we as adults, and those in positions of power, absolutely needed to hear.

I spoke on the day about the significant role each of us had at the #ClimateStrike – in this truly global movement and that it’s actions like this that are going to make the climate transition to a zero-carbon economy happen. I also took the opportunity to thank those who showed the confidence to elect me as the first MEP for the Green Party in the North West – showing a willingness to say yes to change and to getting new ideas from the North West, into the EU Parliament. And it’s in the EU Parliament that I see how hard the Greens are fighting, for the vision we all want to see. The May 2019 elections were called the ‘climate elections’ as the Green surge exemplifies.

What we were saying on Friday to politicians – locally, nationally (when they’re open!) in the EU and internationally was that we want action, not words, system change, not climate change and those changes have to start now.

Our demands are simple:

  1.  No new fossil fuels (and the shale gas industry can pack up and get out of Lancashire right now!)
  2. An end to existing dirty fossil fuels. We need to power down from coal, oil and gas and power up renewables. We’ve got the technology and the answers, all we need is a level playing field. For every pound invested in renewables, we get cleaner energy as well as more jobs; this transition will solve other problems we currently face too.
  3. A just transition across all sectors from sustainable transport systems; energy efficiency new buildings retrofitting our old ones to achieve both environmental and social benefits (end to fuel poverty); changes to the way we use the land, how we grow our food; and a circular economy. Recycling and renewables will bring jobs, reduce harm to the planet and improve our lives – what’s not to love? In essence this the Green New Deal. It’s not complicated but what’s needed is political will.

Everyone who took part in Friday’s protest was on the right side of history – in fact, we were history!

Strasbourg

This week, the European Parliament moved to Strasbourg for the formal and high-pressure plenary sessions when the media attendance (and the marginal Brexit Party MEPs) are in full swing. There was an intense and serious atmosphere when we sat for the day’s business on Wednesday: the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Junker and the chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been in attendance earlier. The subject: “The UK’s withdrawal from the EU”.

The session was informative and resulted in the EU Parliament passing a resolution which insists that any Brexit deal must include the Irish Backstop, or equivalent legally-binding guarantees. It also calls on our UK government to produce written proposals on a backstop alternative and makes clear the EU Parliament’s support for a Brexit extension in a wide range of circumstances, including avoiding no-deal, an election, a second referendum, ratifying the agreement or revoking article 50. The resolution passed by 544 to 126 MEPs; (NB it is not, however, the European Parliament that has the final say: it is the European Council i.e. the Heads of Government of the other 27 countries at heir meeting on October 17th).

Kashmir

The last day of plenary receives ‘urgency motions’ whereby the European Parliament calls for action on (or condemnation of) human rights abuses worldwide. More powerful than those are ‘plenary initiatives’ which warrant fuller debate and this time I spoke regarding the situation Kashmir; in which the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (comparable in layman’s terms to an EU’s Foreign Secretary). The call includes for the Indian government to reinstate civil rights, and to stop the lockdown. While there has been a long-running conflict in the region, the current clampdown on civic life by the Indian government further jeopardises any diplomatic process achieving peace. In the North West, we have many settled communities of Kashmiri heritage, desperately concerned about their loved ones.

Meeting the lobbyists

Along with Molly Scott Cato MEP, I met with two representatives from Make UK, champions of British manufacturers and manufacturing with almost 3 million employed in this sector in Britain. We talked about how a ‘no-deal’ would drastically hit this sector no matter how well businesses had prepared. Make UK made it clear that in any forthcoming general election Make UK will be arguing the case for remaining in the EU, one of the first times as an organisation they had not supported Conservative Party policy.

Make UK fall into the category of lobbyists. I have formally met with Tech UK and the Federation of Small Businesses. In the interest of transparency, I will be publishing a full list of anyone I meet!

The incoming EU Commissioners

A much stranger meeting was with a representative from the European External Action Service who asked to talk to me about the ‘commissioner-designate’ (that’s the person the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has nominated) who has been earmarked to take on the portfolio for ‘Neighbourhood and Enlargement’. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will, in any case,e be part of the hearings with the said Lazlo Trocsanyi from Hungary. As a group, the Greens plan the kind of questions they want to put to all the incoming commissioners during the next few weeks.

Pensions

At the meeting at Lancashire County Council for the Pensions Committee on Friday morning, I tried again to strengthen our call, as a Local Government Pension Fund, to exert our powers for better ethical investing (albeit this is not the language they want to hear). I asked for a report on how and what is needed for us (investors) to obtain more information about how much the companies we invest in are spending on lobbying. Current requirements of the FTSE companies to report amounts on lobbying are woefully lacking. This means that activities by companies who, despite PR the contrary, may be trying to resist regulation or higher standards are not transparent.

Meanwhile this week

Good

Chorley Council set a great example of how to work with the community together on the issue of our lifetimes, the climate emergency. Councillors and staff coming out to speak to young strikers, with respect and a genuine aim to include their voices in reaching for solutions.

Bad

Lancashire County Council refusing to send anyone downstairs to speak to climate strikers in their reception; instead, the police came and ushered staff out of back doors and behaved as if there was a terrorist threat – rather than Lancashire’s young people calling for help!

Where hope lies

Unsure if it will be where hope lies but the Supreme Court will rule later in the week on the use of prorogation by the PM – will be watching closely to see where this leaves the state of UK politics that currently teeters on the edge of mayhem.

Onwards

 

 

 

UK MEPs sign joint declaration on Brexit

PRESS RELEASE –  Brussels, 04 September 2019

 

A Cross Party Group of UK Members of the European Parliament has signed a Declaration committing themselves to work together in the face of Brexit, and have called upon continental colleagues to support their efforts.

Meeting in Brussels, representatives of the Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Alliance, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party were able to sign “the Brussels Declaration” stating:

We, the undersigned UK Members of the European Parliament, representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, declare as follows:

The proroguing, or shutting down the UK Parliament in order to limit scrutiny of the implications of a potential no deal Brexit is completely unacceptable. Limiting the opportunity for MPs to debate, vote and crucially, to legislate, cannot be the response to a referendum in which Leave campaigned for the UK Parliament to “take back control”.

In the continuation of the spirit that UK MEPs have worked in since the 2016 Referendum we commit ourselves to continue to work across party lines and declare that it is vital that MPs do likewise.

We were all elected just four months ago with clear mandates. We are working together. We call upon our European friends and colleagues to assist domestic efforts in keeping the door open to us.

The Declaration was signed by:

Green Party

Molly Scott Cato MEP

Alexandra Phillips MEP

Magid Magid MEP

Scott Ainslie MEP

Ellie Chowns MEP

Gina Dowding MEP

Catherine Rowett MEP

 

Labour Party

Richard Corbett MEP

Seb Dance MEP

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP

Neena Gill MEP

John Howarth MEP

Theresa Griffin MEP

Jackie Jones MEP

Julie Ward MEP

Rory Palmer MEP

Claude Moraes MEP

 

Liberal Democrat Party

Catherine Bearder MEP

Caroline Voaden MEP

Chris Davies MEP

Phil Bennion MEP

Jane Brophy MEP

Judith Bunting MEP

Dinesh Dhamija MEP

Barbara Ann Gibson MEP

Antony Hook MEP

Martin Horwood MEP

Shaffaq Mohammed MEP

Lucy Nethsingha MEP

Bill Newton Dunn MEP

Sheila Ritchie MEP

Irina Von Wiese MEP

 

Alliance Party

Naomi Long MEP

 

Plaid Cymru

Jill Evans MEP

 

Scottish National Party

Alyn Smith MEP

Aileen Mcleod MEP

Christian Allard MEP

 

ENDS

 

Dictators, Democracy & Division

More shocking headlines and news this week on just how the rules of our democracy can be distorted and manipulated to play some immoral power-game that will impact every one of us; the Conservative government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson are willing to write our views out of history and use procedures in ways never intended, to achieve a what would be a disastrous crash out of the European Union.

A no-deal Brexit means safeguards will be lost and we will be vulnerable to the powerful influence of huge global business and bigger trading ‘partners’. How on earth we are ever going to deal with the key issue of our time – the climate emergency – if we are focused on division rather than unity?

We are all at risk from this international threat to our environment and it’s a situation that requires co-operation if we have any hope of averting the worst that could come.

About that ‘No-Deal Brexit’

  • The unavoidable reality: A no-deal Brexit won’t be a clean break: this nightmare will go on forever
  • The unpleasant truth: crashing out is now very possible
  • The urgency: it’s time to save our democracy

The idea of a ‘government of national unity’ is creeping gradually up the list of possible solutions for how to get out of the crisis. And it is gaining more traction even since the article below was written.

In the Guardian this week, Jonathan Freedland makes clear:

“The myths of a no-deal Brexit are about to collide with reality. Those myths are many, and they flourish on both sides of the great divide. For remainers, the greatest is that no deal could never happen. They look at the polls that show far more Britons oppose a crash-out from the EU than support it – 50% to 38%, according to Ipsos Mori – and they can’t quite believe that any government would defy the public will on so grave a matter.

“Still, the greatest myths lie on the other side. One is the fond hope that Britons will weather the disruption of a no-deal Brexit as stoically as they withstood the blitz. The sight of British holidaymakers driven to tears over flight delays this week, with its echo of that time Britons called 999 to complain about KFC running out of chicken, should disabuse us of that particular daydream.

“…after a no-deal Brexit, we’d be back where we started. The last three years would come to seem like an argument between a husband and wife that’s raged in the kitchen. After 31 October, as my colleague Rafael Behr likes to put it, it’d be the same argument – except now the husband would be standing on the street, the front door slammed in his face, shouting his demands through the letterbox.”

All-Women Cabinet?

And today, Caroline Lucas has made a bold proposal. An all-women cabinet of unity to deal with the crisis. Well done, Caroline. As always, clear, insightful and bold. It’s about options.

An upcoming visit to Palestine & Israel

My new roles in the European Parliament include being a member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and member of the delegation for relations with Israel as well as Palestine. For this reason, I was delighted to be able to take up an invitation to join a cross-party delegation visit to Israel and Palestine from 26th-30th August, organised by three sponsoring organisations: Danish, Norwegian and Swedish church groups.

During the visit, I’ll meet with representatives from both Israeli and Palestinian officials and NGOs, as well as a representative of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Program Leader of the World Bank.

I’m particularly keen to explore the potential role of the European Union and its institutions in helping to find a way in which Palestinians, as well as the Israeli people, can be guaranteed their freedoms: to live without threat, to work, attend school, and move about their daily lives in safety, alongside each other.

I also have a personal interest in the region, which started when, as an 18-year-old, I spent some time on a kibbutz in the Negev desert; an amazing experience in itself through which I met wonderful and interesting people. It was not until quite a few years later that I learned of the wider implications of the Israeli nation-state, as it has developed.

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner and conducts trade under an Association Agreement, which in effect means there is a close diplomatic relationship. I believe that the fundamental premise of the European Union as a peace project means that states must uphold international law and abide by conventions on human rights, which are clearly being broken by Israel in the current situation.

IPCC Report – farming/agriculture

This week saw the release of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which calls for radical changes to methods of food production and consumption. I’ll pass over to Molly Scott Cato Green MEP who sits on the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and is the agricultural spokesperson for the Greens. She refers to the South-West, where she represents. I think that there are comparable messages for us here in the North-West with our hill farming in the National Park, as well as our larger dairy and beef farms. It is clear to me that we must work with our farmers as stewards of the land to redesign policies and interventions that expand on this crucial role.

“The report acknowledges that if we are to prevent climate breakdown we must adapt land use so that agriculture becomes part of the solution rather than the problem. But we must go further and find ways of recapturing some of the emissions already in the atmosphere. The land has an extraordinary capacity to absorb and hold carbon if farmed in a climate-friendly way, and the South-West, with its largely rural economy, can lead the way.

“The IPCC recognises that intensive agriculture is resulting in high emissions and soil damage. It is also widely acknowledged that organic farming methods can restore soil health and turn land into a valuable carbon sink. The South-West is already a leader in successful small-scale and organic farming so is well placed to lead a climate-friendly farming revolution. The region also has areas that could be converted to agro-forestry, be rewilded with extensive tree cover and where peatlands could be restored.

“The IPCC report is also clear on the need to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Some land can and should be converted to the growing of protein crops but as the South-West is a leading livestock and dairy region, we need to ensure that these sectors focus on high-quality meat and dairy products and farming methods that protect soils and ensure the highest standards of animal welfare.”

Meanwhile this week…

Good

The good news is that we have got the power to stop a no-deal Brexit. Across the country, there are groups applying pressure and good politicians doing the same in parliament. On Tuesday 13 August, I’ll be in Manchester with ‘Yes to Europe’ to discuss what can be done, what’s being done and how every one of us can help. I’ll be at the Friends’ Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, M2 5NS Manchester, between 7pm-9pm.

Bad

As Cuadrilla UK prepare the extract shale gas from Lancashire again (last time they caused 57 seismic events), news comes of more safety concerns that haven’t been addressed; yet the Environment Agency and Oil & Gas Authority have given permission to begin fracking anyway. Tomorrow, I’ll be back at the roadside to stand with residents on the second anniversary of ‘Green Mondays’. The site is between Blackpool and Kirkham on the A583 near PR4 3PE. I’ll be there from 11am – 1pm. Please do read up on why the recent approval by regulators is so wrong.

Where hope lies

Co-operation, alliances, allegiances and *whatever it takes to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen. But any unity must be clearly defined to ensure it is on this issue and that it is temporary; that the people will decide the Government once we have safely navigated the current treacherous storms of disunity and chaos brought about by Brexit and this Conservative government. We live in rare times and this is a unique situation calling for what feels like unnatural responses.

*To move forward we must agree that Proportional Representation is a vital ingredient and so too is an agreement on immediate climate action.

Onwards

 

ps: I wish I could attend an event next Sunday that is so close to my heart, sadly I’m not available. Councillor Geraldine Coggins though will be speaking for the Greens at the bi-centenary commemoration of the ‘Peterloo Massacre’. The rally will see unions, groups, organisations, campaigns, parties and individuals setting off from 10 different start-points at noon, to converge on Albert Square for 1pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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