With the Brexit deadline now upon us, this is my final day as an MEP. Yet every day for the past few months, or even years, someone, a member of another delegation will have said to me: “Please stay, we want you to remain”. It has broken my heart.
Since 2014, I have had the honour and the privilege of representing the north west of England in the European Parliament. As the chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, I have been heavily involved with negotiations across the Socialist and Democrats Group and with others, attempting to progress legislation that will improve the lives of all Europeans.
The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is a political tragedy that will damage the economic wellbeing and social fabric of the UK and diminish our country’s standing in the world. Even by the more conservative estimates of the Office for Budget Responsibility, the hit to GDP of Boris Johnson’s deal is more than 6 per cent. This translates to hundreds of thousands of jobs – particularly in the high skilled automotive, aeronautical, pharmaceutical and research sectors. I’ve used my final few days in the parliament to mitigate the damage caused by Brexit – speaking to trade union reps and delegations from Rolls Royce and other large employers in the north west.
But the loss goes beyond the cold, hard economic damage. It is about saying goodbye to the most successful peace project in history – a project that the UK was instrumental in setting up. We are British and we are European. As soon as we cut ourselves off from our European allies, we will no longer be able to influence the progressive future we need.
From the clean air we want for our children, to eradicating energy poverty, to workers’ rights: these are all issues worth fighting for. In the last few months alone, Labour MEPs led on the declaration of an EU-wide climate emergency and secured a commitment to truly ambitious 55 per cent renewable energy targets. The UK currently languishes at 12 per cent renewable generation – we now lose the ability to force the UK’s Conservative government to get serious about tackling the climate crisis.
The UK has had such influence in the EU. Shortly after the Grenfell fire, I spoke with my fellow Socialist MEP, Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, who was the rapporteur on the energy efficiency in buildings directive, and I asked her to include a section requiring increased fire safety and suppression standards in all new European buildings. She agreed to this and we were able to work effectively together to ensure this was agreed at all the levels: the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council. This legislation will save lives – will the UK live up to the same standards after Brexit?
Early on in the 2014-19 parliament, the issue of energy poverty was not high up the political agenda. When I was made a shadow rapporteur in the clean energy package, I pushed for it to be made into a key priority for the EU. I put calls in to Commissioners Cañete and Šefčovič, who had responsibility for the energy and climate action portfolios and made clear how important this was.
By the end of the 2019 term, not only had a commitment to eradicate energy poverty been put into EU law, but we had launched the EU Energy Poverty Observatory and we had included a 32 per cent energy efficiency target by 2030 to retrofit older buildings. This was vital because our poorest and most vulnerable citizens tend to live in our leakiest buildings and for every 1 per cent increase in energy efficiency, it is estimated that 3 million homes can be renovated and 7 million people be lifted out of energy poverty. But not in the UK, where these same standards will not apply.
This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Every day for the past 45 years, a Labour representative has spoken up for our values in Europe. The Labour party has sent a delegation to the European Parliament since 1975 and every day we have used our influence to secure the progressive, internationalist, environmentalist, humanitarian, democratic, socialist Europe that we all need. Who will speak up for us now?
I continue to believe that Britain has been and would be best served by being a member of the EU. For the sake of our young people and future generations, we cannot afford to leave this behind. Let’s keep the faith that one day we can rejoin.