This week, MEPs took their seats in the European parliament as part of the ninth legislature. It was a historic moment and one that many did not expect the UK to be a part of. And the only part of the proceedings that the British public will have seen reported in the media? The opening ceremony in Strasbourg when Brexit Party MEPs turned their backs on the young musicians of the Strasbourg Philharmonic in childish protest, as they performed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The publicity-seeking “Bollox to Brexit” t-shirts worn by the Liberal Democrats when entering the chamber were also reported by some news outlets, which was also highly undignified. All of this crass posturing is frankly an embarrassment to the nation. It is playground politics at its very worst, relegating the real and important business of the European parliament.
It seems that Labour MEPs are the only grown-ups left in the room from the entire UK contingent of 73 MEPs. A debate about our place in Europe must be more than this, and not conducted through the prism of an endless sideshow that will only result in reputational damage to the institutions and our standing with the member states. We are in this mess precisely because of a lack of understanding about how the EU works, what it does for us, and most importantly what we do as representatives inside the legislative body. It isn’t too late to turn that around.
The Labour Party, from the grassroots to the leadership, now more than ever, needs to be the voice that stands up for the progressive policies and initiatives proposed by the work we do in the European parliament. Working across parties and across continents, and increasingly winning the battle for hearts and minds with Labour’s powerful anti-austerity ‘for the many not the few’ mantra, as taken up by the Party of European Socialists.
For over 40 years, Labour MEPs have worked with European socialist partners and trade unions to successfully deliver on Labour values in the European parliament, which have positively influenced the lives of millions of people both in the UK and across Europe. We have worked on legislation that is key to improving our everyday lives, from environmental protection and security to consumer rights and social protection. In practice, this ranges from reducing plastic waste to ending mobile roaming charges, and the implementation of the European Arrest Warrant, all of which has been achieved by working across parties in our consensus-driven parliament.
Labour MEPs have made full use of the ability of the European parliament to adopt legislation in fields where national action alone is inadequate to deal with problems, and to develop strong EU policies where acting jointly increases the UK’s leverage. Labour MEPs have worked to ensure that the EU’s single market is not a free-for all for corporate interests, but is a market with rules to protect workers, consumers and the environment, to regulate multinational companies, to ensure fair competition, non-discrimination and equal rights for all.
Our mission and mandate for this parliamentary term is to build upon this record. We should see this success as a part of the Labour Party’s legacy and be proud of it. Our 10 MEPs will be working to secure civil liberties, increase access to research and education (including Erasmus+), support for public health initiatives (including mental health) and push for stronger consumer rights for UK and EU citizens, whilst increasing human rights and transparency in the supply chain. Labour MEPs have also fought for the EU’s single market to include rules that ensure non-discrimination and equal rights for all irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation or age. Tax avoidance in this upcoming mandate is a serious issue that must be addressed if we are to tackle the scandal of inequality, and this can only be tackled at a pan-European level.
Politics in the UK is in a state of flux, with both major parties suffering an identity crisis provoked by Brexit. Many people ask me what Labour’s stance is on Brexit. When I joined Labour, I believed I had joined a pro-European Party, one that promoted a vision of hope, of unity, and one that champions diversity – working together for the common good. My belief is that we still are pro-European. Labour always will be an internationalist party and being at the heart of the EU is part of that, fighting with our sister parties for a socialist Europe. But for too long we have kept quiet about the social and economic benefits of EU membership. Now is the time to make our voices heard. Labour MEPs will continue to make the case for our EU membership as part of our work in the European parliament, and we shall do that whether it is for the next five months or hopefully the next five years.
As a party, we must highlight the good that we do at an EU level and the benefits for our regions and constituents. Our future is brighter inside the EU, whether that be through upcoming legalisation such as the work-life balance directive or the completion of the digital single market. Such initiatives will serve to emphasise that we should not be leaving the EU, but leading in it. I am rolling up my sleeves – the work begins now.