Greetings from Strasbourg. This week, MEPs were back at work, while the UK parliament continues to be suspended, with MPs unable to work together to solve the Brexit mess.
Last week began in Brussels, where I met with other MEPs to talk about budget proposals for the Erasmus + and Horizon 2020 programme. I am delighted to report that the Education and Culture committee (CULT), which is responsible for Erasmus, and the Industry, Research and Energy committee (ITRE), responsible for Horizon 2020, have recommended significant increases of funding to both programmes. The budget increases of €20m and €100m went to Parliament for confirmation this week, as part of the EU budget, and – spoiler alert – they were approved. The overall budget proposal now goes to the Council, where I hope our political leaders will approve the funding increases. If there are proposals for cuts or changes, at least we have ensure that negotiation with regard to these important programmes starts from a strong base.
Friday, I was back in the UK in the Reading office, with my team, preparing for the Apprentices trip to Brussels in October. Due to the success of the trip in the South East we are extending the event to some South West Apprentices, also. This is a subsidised trip to Brussels with almost all expenses paid and the deadline is Friday.
If you are an apprentice and you have not yet applied to join us on the trip, please click here and get your application in! If you know apprentices who are >18 years or employers who have apprentice in the South East, please pass on this newsletter and share THIS LINK.
Saturday saw the start of the Liberal Democrat party conference, and what a conference it was.
Any conference rally is a ra-ra event, meant to invigorate members and supporters. But this year, with 900 first timers along for the ride, the atmosphere was extraordinary. We had a great line up of Speakers and the reception we got when we MEPs took to the stage in our Stop Brexit T shirts made me really quite tearful. Members – you are fantastic! And we appreciate your support so much.
Jo Swinson gave her first leader’s speech, which was a corker and can be seen here and right at the end, she announced that Sam Gyimah has joined the party – fantastic news. A former Tory, like the rest of our converts, Sam has always been one of the good guys.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to talk with some of the other converts, including Chuka Ummuna, who joined Caroline Voaden and me for a special Conference edition of Our MEP Life podcast. With Chuka we tackled directly the concern that our recent converts were not really Liberal Democrats – it has been great to hear from both former sides of the fence how much they are enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of a Liberal Democrat conference and feel more at home in the Lib Dems than they had for years in their former parties.
Earlier on Saturday I played hooky for a couple of hours to attend the Love EU festival at Lyndhurst, nearby in the New Forest. I spoke alongside EU Supergirl Madeleina Kay and Chris Oram from #RemainerNow – both with powerful messages to share about the importance future of a future within the EU. I spoke about the importance of our relationship with the EU as a family: “We fight, we argue, then we make up. We are still family.” Sure, the EU needs reform, but it is critical that the UK remains part of the conversation. It is extraordinary in a world where trade agreements are thrashed out with the likes of the USA and China that our government is trying to rob us of the chance to work in concert with our continental family.
At conference, I spoke at a Creative Futures event, on a panel at the UK music discussion about shared parental leave for self-employed people #SelfieLeave, and also in the debate about the importance of life-long learning.
The most fantastic news is that as a result of this debate Lib Dem education policy now introduces the new concept of PESA’s – Personal Education and Skills Allowances to be paid at 25 years old, 40 and 55 years. This is inspirational and new thinking. All credit to Layla Moran for bringing such a great idea forward.
Finally, however, I have to say that although this was a great conference – we should not have been there. With Brexit still looming and Johnson making a mess at every turn, our members of parliament – our representatives, the voice of the people – should have been in parliament, pushing probing and working together to Stop Brexit and save the UK.