The contrasts between the Parliaments of the UK and the EU have never been starker than this week. I watched from Brussels as our UK MPs returned at last to the House of Commons only to end up embroiled in ugly scenes of disrespect and outright misogyny. It feels like we’re in dangerous territory and the situation is failing to improve despite the Supreme Court ruling making it clear that PM Johnson acted unlawfully.
In Brussels this week, the scenes playing out for me were warm, professional and with clear purpose; from the Shared Future Hearing attended by MEPs from many parties from the Republic, Northern Island and Britain, to the inspirational launch of work on anti-racism and diversity in the European Parliament and the huge exhibition and consultation days on research and innovation.
Back home and along with Cumbrian architects, sustainability experts and representatives from other political parties, I joined a panel discussion and Q&A following the film screening of the film The Age of Stupid in Keswick; and then to the fabulous Make it Matter Craft Fair in Cockermouth. I write this as I prepare to speak at the rally in Manchester (during the Conservative Party Conference) calling to ‘Defend Democracy and Reject Brexit’.
Shared Future Hearing
I attended this first cross-party hearing on Brexit in the European Parliament on the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. With a keynote speech from former Irish Taoiseach, John Bruton, we watched a direct message from Tony Blair, had powerful accounts from community groups (both ‘sides’) and young people who had come from Northern Ireland and were reminded of just how hard-won and valued the Good Friday Agreement is.
Organised by Alliance Party MEP Naomi Long, the #BrexitHearingEU warned how devastating a Brexit could be on the peace process. All agreed that no hard border on the island of Ireland could be tolerable and that no realistic suggestions have been made to avoid it. It seems to many that this is a circle that just cannot be squared.
A highlight for me was hearing from Ellie Crawford of the Northern Ireland Student Climate Network and Doire Finn, co-founder of ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ who are determined to ensure that young people across Northern Ireland have their voices heard and gain a People’s Vote.
Anti-racism and diversity at EU Parliament #ARW19
Fantastic energy and commitment to anti-racism and diversity action at #ARW19 this week. It was uplifting to see our own Magid Magid MEP co-chairing and launch this new formally recognised cross-party ‘intergroup’ within the Parliament to address racism and increase diversity, with support from The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a network of member organisations across Europe aiming to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia.
Afterwards, I connected with Laurie and Kim from The Runnymede Trust, the UK’s largest race equality organisation, which has produced some extremely helpful briefings. One particularly welcome is about how we challenge current discussion around race and class. In short, they advocate a public conversation about politics and inequality which builds solidarity across ordinary people to address the urgent issues facing society today.
What we’re up against is that ordinary people from all backgrounds, from the rural towns of northern England to the tower blocks of London, have been divided and pitched against one another. Too often, people are pitched along the lines of Brexiteers/Remainers, deserving/undeserving, British/foreigner, white/migrant/BAME. So I’m pleased to have met these wonderful women. As well as Zlachar from Apna Haq. Short video clips coming soon.
Research & Innovation
Mid-week, I attended a couple of sessions in the European Commission’s research and innovation days – tentatively reassuring to hear loud and clear commitment within the Industry and Digital cluster to the Horizon Europe (research funding) objectives to research the circular economy innovation and climate-related activities. Europe is ahead again in terms of understanding the importance of the circular economy whereby industrial processes must use and produce materials that are inherently recycled and recyclable.
This was a massive event in a Brussels exhibition centre, and I was disappointed not to have had time to visit more stalls or sessions (the future generations of sustainable batteries nor to experience Sea Bubbles – the zero-emission boat on the canal outside). I am ever-more excited to be the Greens/EFA representative on these themes of EU work.
Among other formal business, I also attended the Transport and Tourism Committee Meeting. All of the European Parliament’s committees are preparing for ‘hearings’ with the new Commissioners-designate (the new ‘college of Commissioners’ in-waiting). One Commissioner from each member state is proposed by the new President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Each committee can give its consent to, or recommend rejection of the proposed commissioner for their specialist area. The Greens/EFA use this opportunity to test the understanding and real commitment of each Commissioner-designate to the values and climate targets the EU has set.
The UK Supreme Court ruling confirming that PM Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament was unlawful, was a relief to hear. It had seemed obvious to most that the PM’s motivation was not for the good of the country, but to fulfil his own political agenda.
You can watch my short statement on this momentous ruling here. In the press, I joined many in calling for Mr Johnson’s immediate resignation, and for Parliament to be reconvened straight away so that it could “begin to chart a sensible path through this national crisis”. Seeing Parliament return though was only briefly uplifting as the atmosphere and behaviour of some MPs were hostile and unprofessional. It was clear Johnson always wanted to make his mark on history – in reality, he has left an unpleasant stain on democracy. I just hope it will fade in time.
Meanwhile this week
I was delighted to be in Cumbria for 24-hours (a treat to be in the rural landscape, even if briefly!) and enjoyed discussions with the crowd who came to the see the decade-old but must-see The Age of Stupid film. Highlighting inaction on climate as nothing less than stupidity, another ten years have passed when we could have been working on developing solutions. So good that organisations such as Cumbrian Action on Sustainability‘s Green Build Festival have been developing and showcasing solutions for energy-efficient and zero-carbon homes. In Cockermouth, the Taste Cumbria fair was busy selling locally made, delicious and healthy foods. Just as it should be.
The way the House of Commons has looked this week has been ugly and painful to watch. The European Parliament is a pleasure to work in: a respectful, professional and fair workplace with resources, processes and behaviours that go a long way to improving outcomes. My heart goes out to those elected to be in the House of Commons who simply want to represent their electorate and do the job of an MP – rather than facing a barrage of booing and rudeness that only succeeds in further hindering any hope of good-purpose shining through.
Where hope lies:
Reading about the potential for Britain to enjoy 400 billion more flowers if road verges were cut later and less often! Wildlife charities have drawn up guidelines drawn along with highways authorities and contractors that show how this will provide grassland habitat the size of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh combined. Stunning what the little changes can do!