“I am and always will be European.” These were the heartfelt words of the Labour leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott, to a meeting of Socialist & Democrat colleagues following Theresa May’s article 50 letter of notification.
Fellow MEPs from Germany, France, Denmark, Romania and many other countries spoke up to express their friendship, support and solidarity for us at a time when they see many British voices being silenced by a Tory government with a right wing agenda. And Glenis, I and other colleagues confirmed that there is more than one view of Britain’s future from here.
Yesterday was a real testament to the strength of our relationships with our neighbours, as MEPs within the S&D Group demonstrated their respect and support for their Labour colleagues. Glenis received a standing ovation and I was touched by the kindness I received from many of those I have worked with since I was elected.
It was an emotional afternoon all round in the European Parliament. Last year I had offers from colleagues from many of the other countries to help with the campaign to stay in the EU. There is an enormous affection for the British and deep regret both that we lost the referendum and also for the way that the UK government have chosen to interpret the result.
Our hearts are breaking as Theresa May pushes Britain into the unknown with apparently little regard for the incredible risks she is taking with the British people’s future.
I have the good fortune to represent the South West of England and Gibraltar, but the government has completely failed to represent the interests of either of these places. The article 50 letter referred to only one land border with the EU, when with Gibraltar there are two, and talked only about the UK thereby ignoring the very real concerns of Gibraltar – Gibraltarians voted 96 per cent to remain in the EU. We saw in the Budget how hollow the referendum promises – like guaranteeing places like Cornwall the same funding in the future that they currently get from the EU – really are.
I feel a deep sadness when I think of our country leaving the European Union. For forty-three years Britain has been at the heart of EU, making decisions, negotiating for Britain’s interests, and sharing the values of our European neighbours. This collaboration has delivered workplace rights, consumer benefits and environmental protections as well as the countless jobs and taxes that we have had as a result of our membership of the single market.
There is genuine shock and disbelief from our colleagues at what this Tory government is trying to do to our great country. The idea of our European rights and privileges being stripped away on the whim of the agenda of a privileged few stands in the face of everything we believe in as Europeans.
The warmth of yesterday afternoon was very real. However, so too was the fact that my European colleagues now also have to develop their position with regards to the way the rest of the EU will respond to Theresa May’s Brexit agenda. The prime minister has done nothing to ensure the British government receives a warm response. Yesterday we lost our sovereignty over what our future relationship with the EU will look like. I am in no doubt that it will be our economy and society – the small businesses, the universities, the rights so hard fought for – that will suffer if the UK government continues down its current path.