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By Tomos Ireland-Life

Not knowing many people in Brussels at first, living in overcrowded house and missing home a bit meant that I was nervous to start my new role one year ago. Now, even though this year has panned out differently than what was expected, I can say that deciding to work for BritCham in Brussels has been one of the best decisions that I’ve made.

I did not know what to expect at first. Whilst I was definitely interested in communications and events, in all honesty when I applied for the job in February 2019 I did so primarily because I wanted to live in Brussels for a year, and because I liked how it sounded to say that I worked at the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the role, and it’s been an incredible time to represent UK-EU as Brexit unfolds.

My responsibilities changed throughout the year as there was a restructuring within the organisation due to the impacts of Covid-19. Generally speaking, my role consisted of three main responsibilities: the organisation of the Brussels New Generation Task Force (the leading network for young professionals in Brussels); content development of all of the Chamber’s social media platforms and regular blog updates; and delivering content and support for the high level events that the British Chamber organises.

Even though we were hosting online webinars, working remotely since March meant that less impetus was placed on the events side of the role and more on the communications, and I enjoyed developing my communication and writing skills further.

I’ve developed skills in the field of communications and public affairs, gained an appreciation of how to organise a committee of highly capable professionals, and have developed the ability to organise multiple assignments whilst meeting tight deadlines. Since early on in the role I’ve learned to use my initiative so that progress with various projects could then be made.

One of the positives of working in a small office was the larger responsibility that was placed on us, and the opportunities that have stemmed from this. Consequently, we were working alongside a number of senior, highly accomplished professionals in Brussels, and being able to learn from how they practice within their businesses was truly a huge pleasure. It’s also been amazing having the opportunity to listen and gain insight from senior representatives in the European Parliament, senior members of the Commission, the previous Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, the British Ambassador to Belgium, and the Chief Economist of the British Chambers of Commerce as these people have spoken at a number of our events.

It’s been eye opening living in another country which speaks another language. My favorite bar in Place Jourdan was run by a sweet old man called Bernard who could not speak a word of English, so I’d then have the opportunity to practice my French. But other than ‘deux leffe blonde s’il vous plait’ I must concede that the only other term that I can say with great confidence is ‘je voudrez parler français mais c’est difficile’… still, I am determined to learn the language if I am to return to Belgium! 

Another perk of the job was that we were essentially given season tickets to watch Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (better known as UNION!) who played football in the Belgian First Division B. After winning a few matches later on in the season we were hoping to see their charge for promotion but this was disrupted due to the pandemic. Now that the season’s back on they seem to have picked up some form, promotion might still happen… as a self-diagnosed Union ultra-fan I will have to return to watch them play at some point next season.

Whilst going into my final year without having cemented a grad role from my placement (as many of my peers have) is slightly daunting, I’m not in the slightest bit regretful for the time that I’ve spent with the British Chamber. I’ve learned skills that I would not have learned otherwise, and have had the opportunity to achieve things that I wouldn’t have done elsewhere. Three of my biggest achievements was setting up the BNG Mentoring Scheme which is the first of its kind in Brussels, establishing and becoming editor of the BritCham Weekly Newsletter, and organising the Connect with the EP two-day event in the European Parliament last October.

As long as you’re learning, any experience is good experience. I would therefore recommend this internship to any student who’s looking to do a placement in another country. Whilst I may not want to be a communications expert once I’ve graduated, I’ve learned so many other transferable skills that I’ll be able to bring forward to whatever profession I go into when I leave university. With the challenges posed by Brexit and Covid-19 I sincerely hope that the class of 2020 and beyond will benefit from similar opportunities that I have, and will continue to have the option to work in Europe for years to come.

By Liam Smyth, ChamberCustoms

@chambercustoms www.chambercustoms.co.uk

The UK left the European Union on 31st January 2020, and the transition period comes to an end in December this year. It is vital that businesses take action now to get ready for a new border operating environment from 1st January 2021.

Until the new border operating model was published on 12th July, we could only speculate on how goods would be controlled at our borders once we left the EU.  It’s now clear – and the new model brings this into stark reality – that businesses need to prepare for a significantly higher level of customs declarations and associated administration.  It candidly states “customs declarations are complicated”.

Declaration volumes will grow from 55 million now, to almost 300 million next year.  The cost to business is estimated at around £7bn per annum, and the customs intermediary market lacks the necessary capacity to deal with the increase.

The detail

New border procedures for importing and exporting goods to and from the EU will be in place. Traders importing ‘standard goods’ – covering everything from clothes to electronics – will need to prepare for new customs paperwork.  You will need to keep specific records of imported goods and you can opt to take up to six months to submit a full customs declarations for goods arriving from the EU.   

Taxes will need to be paid on all imports, but payments can be deferred for up to six months until July. This will help trader cash flow until the end of 2021, but only if you or your agent have the correct approvals in place to use simplified procedures.  Full customs requirements will apply to controlled goods from 1st January 2021 whether they arrive from the EU or elsewhere.

Businesses will be able to account for VAT on goods imports using Postponed VAT Accounting from the start of the new year.  This means that once the staged introduction period ends, payment of VAT due on imported goods can be delayed until the next VAT return.  

What does this mean for business?

Despite the much needed clarity on customs procedures, and a welcome delay through staged introduction of full customs controls, big challenges remain for most businesses.  Declarations volumes will increase, costs will rise, traders need to skill up to deal with new procedures and time is incredibly short.

Companies trading across the globe will need to make a choice.  Should they take advantage of the staged introduction of measures for EU imports and gain a cashflow advantage through delayed duty and VAT payments?  Or, stick with the systems and processes they already know, and use the newly introduced postponed VAT accounting and guarantee free deferment accounts to delay border taxes by up to six months?    Whatever you decide, businesses that export and import goods have change coming and it’s inevitable. 

The wise amongst you will wake up to change and plan your level of readiness.  There is much to do and qualified and compliance led customs experts are becoming a rare commodity.

Our expert team at Chamber Customs, our international trade training programmes and our overseas connections make us an ideal customs partner.  

As your business gets ready for the end of the transition period, our customs agents are ready to help you clear your goods at the border.  Give us a call to arrange a chat.

Whether here in Belgium or across the UK, the Chamber network is here to support you and to help you to trade with confidence.

The practical implications of Brexit on everyday UK-EU trade is becoming clearer week by week. This week, Amazon announced changes affecting Amazon sellers, customs briefings and enquiries ramped up, and the impact on product availability and businesses started to become evident. The detail is very welcome, and helps businesses prepare further. For some, the impact will be more difficult to manage and will effect consumer choice, price and availability.

The UK government’s publication of its border operating model provided traders and logistics operators with more detailed information on the requirements for UK exports and imports. While much of the overall approach was predictable, the details of the arrangements make clear the challenges that traders will have to adapt to, and the costs likely to be incurred.

This week, retail giant Amazon announced the end of Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) for UK sellers delivering to customers in the single market (and vice-versa). Sellers will now have to divide their inventory between UK and EU-Based Fulfilment Centres to avoid losing sales in either market.

This will raise the cost of reaching customers through increased storage and transaction costs of shipping their goods to warehouses in both markets. With Amazon putting in transitional measures before 1st January 2021, sellers Christmas trade may be affected too.

As so often, it’s the detail that counts. The UK’s plan to introduce postponed VAT accounting will be a boon to the cashflow of UK importers. But some businesses are beginning to see additional unwelcome challenges. For example, fresh fruit and vegetables delivered by air from Africa to the UK and its Benelux neighbours are distributed across the region. Since these goods movements will now need phytosanitary checks at the entry point, the opening hours of phyto offices at ports and airports now become a critical factor in avoiding lengthy delays.

With the time for preparation now short, the UK government is stepping up its communications to businesses with webinars for Belgian and Irish firms this week and more to come.

With its network of expert members and the backup of its UK chambers, Britcham is there to help you. If you have questions, contact us at BusinessContinuity@britishchamber.eu

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

UK Govt – Border Operating Model: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf

The UK Government has published its long awaited border operating model. It makes clear how the border with the EU will work – at least in most cases. But some important questions remain, and the cost to business, in customs administration work alone, will be substantial. The government has responded to some key demands from British Chambers of Commerce for measures to improve cash flow. But if there’s not a deal, the cost will be higher again – and key questions remain unanswered.

While businesses will welcome more detail on processes for trading goods overseas, some questions still remain unanswered, including on trade across the Northern Ireland border and the operation of the Goods Vehicle Management System. We will continue to look at the detail and how it affects businesses over the coming weeks.

The Border Operating Model provides clarity and certainty for the border industry and businesses, including technical detail on how the border with the EU will work after the transition period and the actions that traders, hauliers, ports and carriers need to take. It covers all of the processes and systems, across all government departments, that will be used at the border. It provides clarity on the end to end journey for moving goods across the border – with information about controlled goods and new government systems that will support trade.

To help businesses prepare for these changes and continue to trade, guides on how to import and export goods are available in the form of a ‘journey’ (see below). That’s important since so many UK based companies currently trade only with the EU. They need to clearly see every step they need to take to ensure that their goods are transported successfully.

This will cost businesses money. With full border controls in place at all ports from January 1st next year, regardless of any deal that is agreed with the EU, an estimated 200 million more customs declarations will need to be made by traders annually. At a cost of £20 to £45 per declaration the cost to business could be in the region of £4bn to £9bn.

The UK government has listened to the British Chamber network and reintroduced Postponed VAT Accounting, as well as allowing the deferment of duty and VAT on EU imports for at least 6 months from January 2020.   And many businesses will appreciate the introduction of bond-free duty deferment accounts, which will provide much needed help to cashflow for businesses and reduce import costs.

Along with the European Commission’s Communication last week on preparing for the end of the transition period, it’s clear firms that import and export across the UK-EU border should take action now including the appointment of customs intermediaries and addressing approvals and certifications.

With its network of expert members and the backup of its UK chambers, Britcham is there to help you. If you have questions, contact us at BusinessContinuity@britishchamber.eu

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

Hyperlinks also below.

UK Govt – Border Operating Model: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf

How to import and export goods between Great Britain and the EU from 1 January 2021: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-import-and-export-goods-between-great-britain-and-the-eu-from-1-january-2021

European Commission – Getting ready for the end of the transition period: https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership/future-partnership/getting-ready-end-transition-period_en

Our pre-COVID-19 photoshoot

The impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures have affected each of us in different ways. It’s caused health issues that have changed the lives of many, whilst others have been left unscathed. It’s also freed the time of thousands of people who’ve been placed under the furlough scheme, whilst the days of others have become substantially busier for a number of different reasons.  
However we’ve all had to learn what it’s like to stay at home, and for most of us, to work from home as well.

March 13th marked the last day that the BritCham team worked in the office. The original plan was to work from home and the situation would be assessed every two weeks – over two months later we are still working from home.

You’d be forgiven if at first you thought that we would not have much to do at the Chamber, as much of our business revolves around hosting events and facilitating networking between companies. But in reality we’ve been far busier than usual! We’ve continued to support our Members through council, by hosting various webinars, by offering opportunities for our Membership to join the webinars hosted by other Members to support businesses throughout these times of crises, whilst continuing to comment on the development of the negotiations about the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

There’s no doubt that the sudden change to the home-office was difficult at first. I struggled to maintain my productivity during the first week with distractions from my Mum wanting to chat, from my dog wanting to play, and from my mind wanting to wonder! But I’ve since found a routine that works for me and the days feel more productive now than they were during the time that I was working in the office.

Outside of work I’ve also found that there are now more hours in the day to do things that I didn’t have the time to do before. The commute would take 45 minutes before and after work, and having after work drinks would often result in doing nothing but cooking food, watching an episode of something on Netflix, and then falling asleep once I got home.

With less time wasted and less distractions, I’ve found myself having the time to read, write, and exercise more regularly and I feel better for it.

Though I hope for the restrictions to be lifted soon, I also hope that some of these good habits will stay!

Whilst gauging the wellbeing of the rest of the team is not as easy as it was in the pre-Covid era as the routine lunch time conversations or the daily catch-ups around the lunch table are not taking place, it seems as though our team all seem to be mastering the working-from-home routine, and all seem to be relatively content with the status quo. Every Thursday we have a quiz on Zoom that I’m yet to win (the questions are rubbish..), but it’s good to have a weekly catch-up outside of work.

It is strange to consider how things will be once all lockdown restrictions are lifted and when that eventually might be. You’d like to think that the quizzes that we’re having at present will take place in person as opposed to on Zoom. However, further questions spring to mind about how different things might be when we finally emerge from this: how will we be expected to greet one another if we’re not supposed to shake hands? Is the elbow tap going to stay?

One thing that’s apparent is that businesses have demonstrated their resilience to survive by adapting to the current circumstances and putting in place certain mechanisms to ensure that they’re able to continue to do their work.

This is illustrated by the fact that thousands of businesses have been able to implement a work from home policy for all staff when this would have been an absurd notion only a few months ago.

Whether you prefer to work from home or at the office the long term-effect is likely to be significant.

Geography may no longer matter when applying for roles. Having demonstrated the ability to work remotely for a company in Brussels from my home in Cardiff, what’s to stop others from applying for similar roles but establishing these living arrangements from the first day?

The technological leaps that have been taken on the masses have indicated to me how interconnected the general population, and the global business community has the potential to be.

The impacts of the lockdown may change the way companies hire people from here onwards, which is exciting! 

Still, the thought of working from home permanently is not necessarily something that’s appealing to me. I do miss the human interactions that working in an office with my colleagues brings.

Who knows what the long term impacts of this pandemic may be? All that I know is that I’m looking forward to returning to the office at some point, and I’m fed up of Zoom!

Tomos Ireland-Life – Communications Officer

Although those headlines that tell you robots are going to steal your job can be disheartening, the overarching message that came from last week’s panel was a positive one. Though the term Artificial Intelligence may seem scary, the panel reminded us that we actually already use A.I everyday – when we search Google, choose from recommendations on Netflix or Spotify or find more similar products on Amazon. Overall, the discussion made it clear that as automation advances, it will be the most human-centric skills that become the most valuable.

Expert Panel_3

On the 12th February, our Chief Executive Glenn Vaughan chaired an expert panel discussion on automation at The British School of Brussels, in collaboration with AmCham Belgium. Discussing the ‘Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: workforce transitions in an age of automation’ McKinsey Global Institute report from 2017, the panel provided a great insight for the future workfoce – the students from BSB and other local schools – as well as the current one – parents and corporate representatives from across Brussels.

Key note speaker Jacques Bughin, Director of MGI and co-author of the report, gave the message that instead of fearing this new technology and worrying about what jobs it might take away, it is better to view these new advancements as opportunities and seize each one. Jacques’ confidence that it is not that today’s jobs will all disappear, that instead they will transition as they have done in the past and it is up to us to decide how these transitions unfold, was an aspirational takeaway for the audience.

Catherine Stewart, Senior Advisor at Interel Group, was clear that there are still ways to stay ahead of the automation trend. Though machines and A.I are advancing in cognitive tasks related to memory and learning new information, they lack our people skills and emotional intelligence. Catherine’s advice to the future workforce, and also to the current one, is “learn to be clear, constructive, creative and adaptable, learn to listen and to challenge in a positive way” in order to thrive.

‘The high-skill, high-pay jobs of the future may involve skills better measured by EQs (a measure of emotional intelligence) than IQs’

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England

Angela Dong, Senior Vice President Human Resources, Research & Innovation, Solvay, is witnessing the A.I transition first hand, and advised the audience that in fact, not everyone needs to master the potentials from A.I and new technology, but to stand out you will need to understand what it is that it can help you achieve.

Melanie Warnes, Principal and CEO of The British School of Brussels, concluded the panel discussion in agreement with the other panellists that the way the future workforce interact with each other, human to human, will be crucial, and that an optimistic view on the topic remains important.

Expert Panel_4

Though automation may be on the rise, the take home message of the night was to take a positive outlook – the robots won’t beat us yet!

‘The future is not predictable, it is to be shaped’

Jacques Bughin

 

 

from Helena Raulus of the UK Law Societies

As the debate in the UK Parliament on the ratification of the draft Withdrawal Agreement begins, it is a useful time to analyse the consequences of the adoption (or non-adoption) of the Agreement from a legal perspective.

If the Agreement is not ratified, the main concern is that this could lead to a ‘no deal Brexit’, whereby the UK exits the EU without concluding any overarching deal (or deals) with the EU.

Due to the very different legal mechanisms governing international rules on trade and other areas of cooperation, both the UK and EU will face a distinct fork in a road at the end of March next year.

Ratification of the Agreement will ensure on the one hand that the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 and, on the other hand, that its departure takes place in an orderly manner. The Agreement sets out the framework that provides for a transition period, during which time negotiations for a new EU-UK relationship can take place, in addition to new agreements with third countries.

The ratification also guarantees the package of rights for UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, as well as the Northern Irish backstop after the transition period (the backstop will become applicable only if the new agreement requires specific measures to be taken).

A ‘no deal Brexit’, in contrast, will bring an immediate end to EU-UK cooperation and the existing legal framework. The trading and legal relationship will change abruptly and the UK will revert to a third country framework, where there are no special trade agreements to facilitate relations.

The pressing question in this situation is: what can be introduced quickly to help the continuation of trade and cooperation between the UK and EU?

The first question is whether the Withdrawal Agreement could be applied in parts in this situation. It would be useful to mitigate against the worst effects of a ‘no deal Brexit’. However, this is doubtful as in this situation Article 50 will have run its course and will not be applicable anymore.

In this scenario a new UK-EU agreement would need to be negotiated under the rules set out in the EU Treaties. This comes with the consequence in that if a matter falls under national competences, the new agreement will need to be ratified not only by the EU itself but also all of the member states. This would be case in particular with regard to the transition period, as it aims to replicate the full EU legal framework, and deeply covers both EU and member state competences. The Treaties are clear in that, for example, internal market rules fall under mixed competences, not under exclusive EU competences.

Consequently, any measures taken will need to be assessed through the prism of who has the power to adopt the initiatives agreed. This leaves three options.

The first is where the EU and UK can take unilateral measures to facilitate trade in a ‘no deal Brexit’. For example, the EU has the power to declare adequacy or equivalence with regarding to passporting for financial services and data flows.

However, where there is a requirement of reciprocity, things may not be so straight-forward. This is the case for example in relation to visas, where the EU declared that is willing to waive visas for UK citizens, but only if the UK does not require EU citizens to apply for visas.

Then there are areas where a specific agreement between the parties is generally required to provide for reciprocity.

It is possible to conclude an agreement between the EU and the UK, or between an EU member state and the UK. It is also possible to conclude a mixed agreement, where the EU, the member states and the UK are all parties to the agreement.

The quickest form of agreement to ratify is one where there is an agreement between the EU and the UK. This type of agreement requires a reading in the European Parliament and the member states to sign off in the Council. However, this process can be used only where the EU has exclusive competence – for example with regard to the trade in goods and services, but not internal market access, for example.

In all other cases, where the EU does not have exclusive competence, it is possible to work out bilateral agreements with the member states. It would be possible to make a mixed agreement with the EU and all the member states, but the negotiations of these agreements are complicated, not to mention the ratification which usually takes at least a couple of years. Therefore, bilateral negotiations may be the quickest route should the UK find itself in a ‘no deal’ scenario.

However, it must be kept in mind that any bilateral negotiations cannot breach or infringe upon the exclusive competences of the EU. Trade in goods and transport are of particular interest here, as one of the crucial priorities in a no deal situation would be to ensure that food and medicines can reach the UK market.

As a result, the consequences of a ‘no deal Brexit’ would set the UK on a very difficult and radically different path compared to that of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is a path from where it will take time to recover and reach the agreements needed to fully resume trade between both blocs.

A version of this article has also been published in the November edition of the UK Law Societies’ Brussels Agenda.

On Thursday 25th October, the British Chamber’s CEO Glenn Vaughan met with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab for a landmark meeting alongside representatives from chambers across Europe. Glenn shares his thoughts following the meeting:

glenn raab

There’s no certainty – but more clarity and confidence can be built

Last Thursday I was part of a delegation of national chambers of commerce that met Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, Brexit Minister Robin Walker and the top officials from his department. Countries represented were Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark – as well as Britain.

The message from our own members was supported by detail from our expert Future Relations Committee, and echoed loudly by national chambers representing 70% of all EU-UK trade:

  • No-deal is not an option – for either side. It would create very severe disruption for everyone.
  • When a withdrawal agreement is finalised, the next phase of negotiations must proceed quickly. There’s no room for a leisurely go-slow while the EU manages its institutional changeover or London lines up its ducks.
  • Regulatory alignment is extremely important if we are to get close to ‘frictionless trade’ in a future agreement.

The need for certainty underlies everything we have to say, but right now it is a long way off. Each new piece of progress only reveals the next cause of uncertainty. An agreement at a hoped for November European summit will need to be approved, especially in the UK parliament.  Once a withdrawal agreement is sealed, that’s the point from which we can start to work towards clarity – step by step.

We expect both the UK and the EU to take that opportunity to specify a clear destination and make clear and practical steps towards it, building confidence as they go. Another period of putting off decisions, until the next cliff edge is reached, is no good for anyone.

Day in the life of Schaake (1)

A Day in the Life of Marietje Schaake MEP

Nine years ago, I was elected as a Member of the European Parliament. Although I have been around for quite some time, I can honestly say that not a day goes by where I do not learn new things and meet new people. It is the dynamism and intensity that makes this job so special.

I usually start my day by walking to work. It is spring in Brussels now, which makes the walk from my home to the Parliament very pleasant. After I arrive, I always read the news. I think it is important to start the day by understanding what is going on in the world. Events that happen in the United States or the Middle East affect European politics as the world is truly connected, both offline and online.

This particular Wednesday my first meeting starts at 8.30. Today I exceptionally have no committee meetings or meetings of my political group. During any week, my schedule is quite hectic as I divide my time between Brussels and the Netherlands. This morning I have the opportunity to meet two fellows from the European Parliament’s Sakharov Fellowship. The fellowship is granted to human rights defenders from all over the world. Yesterday I also spoke at the 30 years Sakharov anniversary conference and now I have the chance to learn from the fellows from Jordan and Lebanon in person. For my work in the subcommittee on Human Rights, personal exchanges with human rights defenders are key to gain an understanding of the situation in other countries.

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After several other meetings, I need to rush to an interview with France 24 about the export of chemicals to Syria. On 18 April the Belgian news magazine Knack revealed that three Belgian companies were being accused of exporting chemicals to Syria, including isopropanol, a substance that can be used in the production of sarin nerve gas. The reports are worrying because the export of chemicals to Syria would mean a serious violation of European sanctions against the country. The war in Syria is one of the most horrendous conflicts of our time and I believe Europe should do anything within its power to bring the war to an end, a view I continue to express in my capacity as a member of the committee on Foreign Affairs. Upholding European sanctions is one of the ways to work towards this goal. I told France24 that Europe is as strong as its weakest link and member states should exercise their authority to stick to their commitments.

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At noon I am off to a briefing on digital trade and e-commerce at the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium. During the ride I quickly check my emails and the news to stay up to date. The British Chamber asked me to speak about digital trade and e-commerce today due to my report on a European digital trade strategy, adopted by the International Trade committee in December 2017. The report calls for a digital trade strategy that enables the EU to combat new forms of digital protectionism and promote its values. I always like these kind of meetings to be as interactive as possible and to have a real conversation with the participants. An important part of my work is to communicate with representatives of public and private parties about European policies and the motivation behind them.

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Back in the Parliament I have a meeting with a human rights defender from Kenya. She is taking part in the Shelter City program in the Netherlands, whereby the Netherlands provides temporary shelter to human rights defenders at risk. The Shelter City programme actually originated from the “European Shelter City Initiative”, introduced by the Czech Presidency of the EU in 2009. To hear about the human rights situation in Kenya is of special interest to me due to my experience in the country. In 2017 I was the chief observer of the European Union to the Kenyan elections. During my time in Kenya I had various meetings with representatives from civil society, who as it turns out are very much connected to the work of the human rights defender I am meeting today.

After the meeting I have just enough time to eat a very belated lunch before I go on to moderate a panel during the ALDE conference on EU cyber defence policy.

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From one panel to another, from cyber defence to digital trade. This evening I am participating in a panel discussion on digital policies together with the European data protection assistant supervisor. The audience is a group of 100 Italian students, who are in Brussels for a three day masterclass. I very much enjoy talking with young people about the European Union and its challenges and opportunities. The Italian students are clearly well-informed and passionate about Europe. The event reminds me the youth is crucial for Europe’s future!

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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.

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