European Parliament gives Brits emotional send-off in tearful plenary

The strains of Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” filled the plenary chamber last night as MEPs joined in song to bid a touching farewell to their British colleagues.
credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Jan 2020

After a debate lasting several hours, the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, paving the way for Britain to leave the bloc on Friday with a deal in place.

There were emotional scenes as the result was announced with MEPs linking arms to sing a final chorus of Auld Lang Syne, lasting several minutes.

The send-off, during which many MEPs were visibly moved, had been arranged by German Greens MEP Terry Reintke and each MEP had a printed copy of the song’s words on their desk.


In a heated and emotional debate prior to the vote, Greens co-leader Philippe Lamberts said, “January 31 is a happy day for some but not for us. I firmly believe the only way to regain sovereignty is to share it. The UK will do well to remember that the EU is an experiment in transnational democracy that might come in handy in the future.”

“The vote today is a vote for an orderly Brexit but we also need to fix things in the EU to avoid a repetition of Brexit.”

UK Conservative Dan Hannan said, “Verhofstadt asks how did we get here? Well, it all started with the Maastricht treaty (which paved the way for the euro). That is how we got here.”

German GUE member Martin Schirdewan warned, “Brexit should be a wake-up call. The UK will not be the last but the first to go if the EU does not change course.”

“The root cause of Brexit is because the two big parties in the UK live in a fantasy world and still think they are running an empire” Bill Newton Dunn MEP

Polish EPP member Danuta Hubner warned that it was “important for us to protect citizen’s rights” while UK Labour MEP Richard Corbett said it was “wrong for Boris Johnson not to put the referendum back to the British people for a confirmatory vote. He has said, ‘you had your say 3 years ago, now you have to shut up.’”

“This is irrespective of how different the Withdrawal Agreement is to what he promised. This was untrue, as will be the promise to get it done by 31 December.”

Corbett predicts that the catch phrase next year will be “Brexit isn’t working.”

Welsh member Jill Evans, who also spoke in Welsh, said, “Wales has benefited hugely from EU membership and I predict we will be back.”

UK Conservative MEP Geoffrey van Orden, one of the longest-serving UK MEPs, said, “Britain will still be a European power, the leading European power in NATO, committed to the security of the democracies of the European continent, sharing many of the standpoints and aspirations of the nations of Europe; an independent, sovereign country with friendly relations with the EU - that’s the aim.”

“We are leaving the institutions of the EU, the increasingly intrusive regulations, the politically-driven ambit of the European Court of Justice, and the insatiable appetite for more political integration with its distaste for national sovereignty. That’s the point - we feel the EU project has gone too far.”

He said the advance of the EU “juggernaut” was sometimes “hardly noticed,” adding, “as national borders were eroded and more and more policy areas became EU competences, so British disenchantment intensified.”

“I hope we can one day celebrate our return to the heart of Europe” Molly Scott Cato MEP

Liberal Bill Newton Dunn, first elected in 1979, said, “The root cause of Brexit is because the two big parties in the UK live in a fantasy world and still think they are running an empire. They never told the public we are a European country, not a superpower. They told an untruth. To mislead people is a disgrace.”

Northern Irish member Naomi Long branded Brexit as “reckless and insular” while Greens deputy Molly Scott Cato said, “We leave with grief and regret but we have some very important political tasks ahead. Now is not the time to campaign to rejoin but we must keep the dream alive.”

Crying and, like Corbett, given a standing ovation, she added, “I hope we can one day celebrate our return to the heart of Europe.”

UK Conservative Anthea McIntyre said, “We have certainly not always agreed, but we have all worked for what we believe is in the best interests of the people we represent. My overwhelming feeling is of a job well done, though not always understood back home.”

“It is important that we leave on good terms, with a climate of friendly co-operation for productive talks on a trade deal ahead. I’m not saying it will be easy; both sides are already taking up some tough positions. But that is what negotiation is all about.”

German member David McAllister, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, said, “Brexit is a historic mistake but the WA provides for an orderly exit and addresses all the key issues so we must now focus on future relations and an ambitious FTA.”

He warned, “But, because of the tight timeframe this will be difficult and the two sides will have to prioritise.”

“Brexit is a historic mistake but the Withdrawal Agreement provides for an orderly exit and addresses all the key issues” David McAllister MEP

Liberal deputy Judith Bunting said, “I love the UK, but this is a bad deal for us. It weakens support for workers’ rights, something the PM did only after he put the deal to the public.”

She added, “I would like to thank all my colleagues for their lovely kind words here today. We will miss you.”

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party colleagues received a stern dressing down from Parliament’s Vice President Mairead McGuiness when they cheered and waved Union Jack flags as he finished his address.

McGuiness turned off Farage’s mic mid-sentence for disobeying Parliament rules.

“If you disobey the rules, you get cut off,” McGuinness said, adding, “Please sit down, resume your seats, put your flags away. You’re leaving, and take them with you if you are leaving now. Goodbye.”

The cheering Brexit Party MEPs then promptly walked out.

Earlier, in his address Farage, an MEP for over 20 years, said, “So this is it, the end of the road. A 47-year political experiment that the Brits have never been happy with. I can tell you that my parents did not sign up what the EU is today.”

He added, “I am not particular happy with this deal but Boris has been bold and promised there will be no level playing field as the EU wants, so good luck in the next round of talks."

“Today, marks the point of no return. Once we have left, we are never coming back. We are going and shall be gone for good.”

He told members, "The EU says it loathes populism but populism has become popular. The UK will no longer be bullied and talked down to. There will be no more Guy Verhofstadt, so what’s not to like?”

As he declared, “That’s it, we’re going,” his colleagues chanted “hip hip hooray.”

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