If a week in politics is a long time, the last year seems like a lifetime. Following the vote to leave the EU by a small majority on 23 June 2016, much attention has been given to the lack of input afforded to MPs by the UK government in Brexit strategy and negotiations so far. It has almost been forgotten that MEPs like myself still have a job to do.
As an MEP, I will have a greater say on the Brexit negotiations than my UK MP colleagues in the House of Commons. Where the EU has embraced a transparent approach, seeking consensus across political divides, Theresa May has insisted on an opaque and authoritarian approach, marginalising our elected representatives. And how we need strong, progressive Green voices now in a vastly changed European and UK political landscape.
Since the referendum result, the political landscape in Europe and the UK has shifted dramatically and rendered the task of a Green MEP even more important. The collapse of the EU has failed to materialise; Eurozone growth is at a six-year high. Seemingly ascendant far-right Eurosceptics have been defeated across Europe. Austria rejected a neo-Nazi and opted for a Green president. A surge in support for the Dutch Greens helped lock Geert Wilders out of government in The Netherlands. Marine Le Pen and the Front National were rebuffed by voters in both the French presidential and parliamentary elections. And, in the UK, UKIP has shed millions of votes and is retreating back into the political wilderness.
Meanwhile, the British people roundly rejected Theresa May’s demands for a mandate to deliver the Conservatives’ vision of an extreme Brexit. The prime minister called a snap general election, offering the electorate nothing but sound bites and hubris; she was rightly humiliated at the ballot box. Despite promising ‘strong and stable’ leadership, the UK is now being led by a weak and wobbly minority government without the public’s consent to lead the country into the most important political process in a generation.
During that time, the role of a UK Green MEP has changed and expanded. Fighting for equality and social justice for citizens across the EU while protecting our environment and taking bold and urgent action on climate change are still our priority issues, but they have been augmented by the need to stand up for free movement, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and expats across Europe and vital workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental safeguards enshrined in EU law.
As a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee and the European Chair of the Climate Parliament, I am doing all I can to resist any attempts to scrap essential EU regulations on everything from air pollution to energy efficiency, from renewable energy targets to recycling targets. The vital Birds and Habitats Directives, the ban on bee-killing pesticides, and EU limits on toxic air pollution have all been targeted by Conservative ministers on an ideological mission to slash ‘red tape’ post-Brexit.
My approach to Brexit is guided by a series of ‘Green Guarantees’ on:
- Safeguarding environmental laws protecting the UK’s air and water, our animals and wildlife;
- Upholding the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU;
- Ensuring young people’s right to travel, study and work across Europe; and
- Protecting the UK from toxic trade deals that hand power to multinational corporations or threaten the National Health Service.
Brexit should be a democratic process, and it is unacceptable that those in charge have decided to shut both Parliament and the people out.
As Greens, we believe it’s voters that should have the final say on the Brexit deal, once it is clear what the offer is – and we’re clear that remaining in the EU must remain an option.
Ultimately, Green MEPs are fighting back against the Tories’ extreme Brexit vision and a deregulatory agenda that will sacrifice the UK’s environment and economy on the altar of ending free movement. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.