I’m often asked what daily reality is like for British MEPs in the European Parliament, where we are still fully fledged members, but the prospect of Brexit casts a long shadow.
In my case, as Leader of the Labour Party MEPs, I spend most Tuesdays in London attending the Shadow Cabinet, the Labour Party National Executive Committee and other meetings. My role is to bring the perspective of the Labour MEPs into these deliberations. Sometimes that is bringing specialised knowledge, sometimes simply representing the views of my experienced team of Labour MEP colleagues. Together we collectively represent all parts of the country and come from all wings of the Labour party, but share a view that we must avoid the costly, catastrophic, chaotic Brexit to which we now seem to be heading.
Strangely enough, the routine work of an MEP is largely unchanged. We, with our colleagues, still examine and vote on proposals for EU legislation (most of which will still affect our constituents for many years to come, whatever happens). We also exercise oversight on the Commission, adopt the budget, approve or reject international agreements entered into by the EU, and so on. In light of this, we continue to engage with constituents: individuals, businesses, trade unions, local authorities and other stakeholders.
Our colleagues from other countries broadly accept this. Any animosity is directed at those British MEPs (UKIP and some Conservatives) who led the charge to Brexit, and especially to those who still want to use their position to rubbish the EU or even disrupt it. Most British MEPs do not fall into that category. And our colleagues largely understand that we are acting in good faith. After all, we don’t represent the UK government, we act as representatives elected (proportionally) in our regional constituencies (by voters not exclusively British), using our judgement and expertise to do what we think is right.
So much of our time follows the daily pattern of most MEPs; parliamentary committee meetings, debates in Parliament and political Group meetings (groups in the European Parliament are international alliances of parties of similar political views; the UK Labour Party is a member of the Socialist and Democratic Group). In all these arenas there are negotiations on compromises; within our Group, between Groups or between Parliament and Council. Some of the most influential MEPs are skilled negotiators.
But Brexit inevitably creeps in, with the UK government still unable, two years after the referendum, to define its opening position in the negotiations on what a future post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU would look like. New costs, new problems and new divisions are arising every week, and public opinion is not rallying behind the result of the referendum, as had been expected, but now moving toward a new “people’s vote” on the final Brexit deal.