Au revoir Europe

Written by Martin Banks on 29 January 2020 in Feature

As almost five decades of UK membership of the EU draw to an end, some of Parliament’s longest-serving British MEPs share their thoughts and memories with Martin Banks.

Photo credit: Press Association

To mark the end of an era, The Parliament Magazine asked British members to reflect on their time in Parliament.

Socialist MEP Claude Moraes told this website, “With so much going on in world affairs at the moment and with so many false dawns, it’s hard to think that 31 January will be the moment that the UK physically finally leaves the EU - and it will be the last time that UK MEPs sit in the European Parliament. So, it will be the first real visible signal that we have left, and I think for UK MEPs who have contributed positively it will feel deeply sad.”

Moraes, who chaired the Civil Liberties Committee for five years, added, “British MEPs, officials and staff have, over the years, made a big contribution to important areas of EU influence like justice and home affairs, employment rights, development and the environment. While there has been a loud, destructive group of British MEPs who haven’t contributed anything positive, I hope there will be some legacy remembered of us who have legislated and contributed positively to EU institutions to help change the lives of the people we represent.”


“Of course, politics and life move on, but it is a big and deeply sad moment when such a big Member State finally leaves the EU in the way it has. UK MEPs, over many years, have made good friends across countries - a unique experience in a Parliament unlike any other in the world.”

Another long-serving UK MEP, Bill Newton Dunn, also looked back on his time in Parliament and, at the prospect of the UK’s departure, voiced “enormous disappointment for my country.”

The Renew Europe deputy added, “Leaving is a profound mistake because it surrenders Britain’s say in European decisions which will still affect us, and it also threatens the break-up of the United Kingdom because Brexit makes it easier for Northern Ireland and Scotland to leave.”

On his time as a parliamentarian, the veteran MEP noted, “Being an MEP has been a huge privilege - to have been elected at the start in 1979 and to still be an MEP, 40 years later, and the last survivor from 1979. It’s the pride in helping construct a united Europe but also in working with and knowing exceptional people from all across Europe and beyond.”

"British MEPs, officials and staff have, over the years, made a big contribution to important areas of EU influence like justice and home affairs, employment rights, development and the environment" Claude Moraes (S&D)

Turning to Brexit, Newton Dunn predicts that this will result in UK “withdrawal from the mainstream world.” Leaving the EU will, he believes, also mean an “increasing lack of influence, loss of veto at the UN Security Council and a lack of investment from international businesses.”

He adds, “Britain’s brightest kids will leave to pursue their careers where prospects are better.”

Looking at his own personal plans, he said, “Being now in my 79th year, I shall enjoy my family and my grandchildren, the next being due in March, and continue my creativity, singing and writing.”

Long-serving Labour MEP Richard Corbett told The Parliament Magazine, “For 47 years, British MEPs have contributed to strengthening democratic accountability in the EU through a stronger Parliament and to improving EU policies. Now, that work will continue without a British voice.”

The constitutional expert added, “There will be many laws and policies affecting Britain without anyone to represent British voters. There will be a major gap in the range of views represented in the European Parliament. There may even be less humour in the debates. It is a sad loss for Europe as a whole, but a devastating loss for Britain.”

Corbett, who has played a key role in steering significant institutional changes through Parliament, including the co-decision procedure between Parliament and Council, said, “This is a fascinating Parliament and it is the end of an era.”

Greens MEP Molly Scott Cato described Brexit as “tragic” and also told us, “British MEPs have been so central to European policymaking for decades that it feels like a tragedy to be losing our power to influence the evolution of the European Green Deal, the regulation of the digital world, carbon-friendly farming and a wealth of other pressing problems."

"British MEPs have been so central to European policymaking for decades that it feels like a tragedy to be losing our power to influence" Molly Scott Cato (Greens/EFA)

"As a Green, it feels particularly painful and destructive that we are losing the seven parliamentarians that a fair voting system delivered for us in the spring; voices that are so vital in addressing the climate emergency and that will now be diminished.”

Veteran Liberal member Chris Davies said, “I loved the Parliament from the moment I arrived more than 20 years ago. I had had two years’ experience in a House of Commons where the role of opposition politicians was confined to making a noise. But the Parliament is a place where ideas can gain momentum."

"I’ve worked across parties and across nationalities and felt able to forge alliances to introduce some positive improvements. The Parliament has many faults, but it has always felt to me like a more grown-up place of work than the Commons.”

He added, “It has been great to finish on a high note, as chair of a parliamentary committee. In the short time I have had in the role, I have shaped the agenda of our fisheries meetings, highlighted issues that were previously ignored, and made sure that MEPs have had a proper opportunity to do their job of holding Commission officials to account.”

Reflecting on his accomplishments as an MEP, Davies said, “When I am asked what I have accomplished, I like to mention that I introduced the principal financial mechanism for supporting innovative low-carbon technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS). It was known as the NER300 programme, which now becomes the Innovation Fund."

"I introduced the legislation that has led to pictures being used to support health warnings on cigarette packs, and I hope this has saved lives as a result. And I set up the cross-party campaign group, Fish for the Future, which played a small part in ensuring that sustainability became central to the revised Common Fisheries Policy."

"Outside the EU we can expect the UK government to spend their time pretending that Britain is in charge of its own policies, when in reality I am sure we will sign up to a host of EU agreements and ‘Brussels’ will continue to set much of the real agenda. It will be sham sovereignty, and such a waste of time and effort. I want my country to be shaping EU policy not trying to avoid it; I want Britain to be an EU leader not a leaver.”

"There will be a major gap in the range of views represented in the European Parliament. There may even be less humour in the debates. It is a sad loss for Europe as a whole, but a devastating loss for Britain" Richard Corbett (S&D)

The MEP went on, “I’m 65, and I shall leave the Parliament not because I have lost an election but because my country is stupidly leaving the EU. Maybe retirement beckons, but if someone has a role for an outspoken former MEP who has no time for fools and is in a hurry to make a difference for the better, they can no doubt track me down.”

Elsewhere, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said, “For the North of Ireland, Boris Jonson’s “deal” is not a miracle long-term cure - it barely gives the North a crutch to lean on. The reality is that we are still being dragged out of the EU against our democratically-expressed wishes.”

The Northern Irish member added, “It is now clear to many that there is only one long-term solution - one that has already been legislated for through the Good Friday Agreement. Irish unity provides the ultimate solution to reverse the negative impact of Brexit on Ireland and offers citizens in the North a pathway back to EU membership."

"I have been an Irish Republican activist all my life; that has never been conditional on holding elected office. I will continue to work to ensure the peaceful and democratic reunification of my country and the creation of a united Ireland of equals within the EU.”

She added, “Irish Republicans do not retire or put down tools, we just change tack. I will apply myself to the Republican struggle until the day I die.”

Liberal Democrat Caroline Voaden said, “We have to face the reality that we have to go home even if we do not want to”, while party colleague Luisa Porritt said she was “sad but grateful for every extra day I had here.”

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, first elected in 1999 and who saw 24 candidates elected last May, said he will miss Parliament’s “drama”, while colleague Robert Rowland said he and his colleagues “had to come to the institution which we want to leave in order to change the course of history.”

On the invitation from Parliament President David Sassoli to attend a farewell party in Parliament later today, Chris Davies, joked, “Remain and Leave MEPs coming together for a grand love-in? Hardly! There had better be extra security to keep them apart.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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