Written the week of Brexit Day, Aimee Hall reflects on the Young Fabians trip to the European Parliament.
It has been a momentous week in Brexit politics and, thanks to the Young Fabians and Labour MEPs Seb Dance and Rory Palmer, 18 of us were privileged enough to see the EU perspective first-hand.
On Monday 27th January 2019, just before “Brexit Day”, I joined fellow Young Fabians on the journey to Brussels, to be part of the last subsidised delegation to the EU Parliament while the UK was in the EU. The people I met on this trip - both my fellow Young Fabians and the MEPs and staff at the EU - reminded me how wonderfully diverse and inspiring humanity can be.
To begin with however, the grey, overcast weather seemed to mirror our own feelings towards the UK leaving such an extraordinary feat of international collaboration. Even those of our Young Fabians group who told me they voted Leave are very much ‘Remainers Now’, and all of us spent many hours discussing how the country might recover from this drastic change in our international standing. The sheer variation in proposed actions from each of us was a timely reminder that we have much to gain from shared decision-making. If we work together and take the best parts of each idea, we can build a strong and deliverable action plan, making sure that the UK prospers during the Brexit transition period and beyond.
Even so, the stark reality of the UK leaving the EU hit me at the most unexpected of times. While awaiting our tour of the EU Parliament inside the main Hemicycle building, I stood in front of the then 28 member flags. I’ve never been one for symbolism, but the thought of the emptiness soon to be left behind in the Union Jack’s spot was heart-wrenching.
On our tour, we were treated to a fascinating set of talks and discussions, with speakers including civil servant Henry Wasung, and representatives from Seb Dance and Rory Palmer’s offices. One phrase stayed with me: “In the UK, compromise can be a dirty word”. Our government typically has a majority, so can generally have relatively free reign over legislation without involving the opposition. In contrast, the EU Parliament contains no majority for a single group or set of views. This is no accident; by ensuring regular multi-party discussions, teamwork and compromise, there is not just more scope for respect and understanding, but also rigorous analysis of legislation from a wide range of perspectives.
Richard Corbett, then MEP and Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, highlighted how no legislation or agreement can be approved without EU Parliament input – arguably giving our MEPs more power to hold others to account than UK MPs have in the Commons. Corbett then showed us into the Chamber of the EU Parliament to end the tour, where I was struck by its hemicycle layout. This design is used to foster consensus-building between different groups, rather than encourage the more confrontational style we see with opposite benches in Westminster.
I asked Corbett how we should counter false narratives about the EU’s supposed ‘unelected bureaucrats betraying us’ from the UK government and media, and instead showcase the EU’s strength in togetherness. Of course, were no easy solutions. One thing we all agreed is that we must be united in opposition to each and every piece of dangerous legislation from the Prime Minister, and call out any misinformation used to support his proposals. We can do this by getting involved wherever we can – from signing petitions to organising or attending major policy events.
I’m so lucky to have been selected for this trip, and would strongly recommend that readers take up similar opportunities. The Young Fabians will be holding their 60th birthday fundraising celebration event in March – perhaps this is your next opportunity? You will love meeting a great group of people who work together to change our country for the better.
I am proud to say I already love the EU, but the more I learn of its history and current workings, the more respect - and frankly awe - I have for the institution and those who make it work.