With my time as an MEP coming to an end there will be many ‘lasts’. Last encounters with fantastic European colleagues; last committee meetings; and, as was the case this week, last visits to the official seat of the European Parliament, Strasbourg. I’ve explained in previous versions of MEPLife that this is where we have our plenary debates. All 751 MEPs (with their staffs in tandem) make the journey from Brussels to Strasbourg for one week per month.
There are a lot of very good arguments about the practicalities of uprooting 1000+ people for a week when they already have an office in Brussels. I sympathise with a lot of them, and just this week as part of the Green Deal, a majority of MEPs voted to stop this crazy practice and for Parliament to have just one single seat. However, when you’ve spent over six months working in the heart of European democracy, witnessing – as I have – the incredible capacity that the EU has to innovate, to educate and to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges, then frankly when you realise that your place at the table is about to come to end, you start worrying less about logistics and more about lost opportunities.
Speaking of the wonderful things the EU can do I was pleased that Parliament also passed a resolution on Tuesday that addressed the rights of the many EU citizens living in the UK, as well as the Brits living in the EU. These rights, should never, ever, been put at risk by our reckless government. Guaranteeing their rights should have been the first point on the UK’s Brexit negotiating agenda. That it wasn’t is a source of immense national embarrassment. We are talking about years of stress and uncertainty being endured by people who have made their lives in the UK for decades. The scheme we have now is, honestly, diabolical. Not a card, nor any kind of physical document! The ability of an EU national living in the UK to prove their settlement status now depends on a PDF. We all know that PDFs can be doctored, and that is why – quite justifiably – landlords and employers being extra cautious when processing them. Where does this lead us? To more, unjust discrimination, and perhaps even another Windrush scandal. The time for political games is over, it’s time to listen to people’s concerns and act accordingly. Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and influential Renew Europe MEP who Chairs the Brexit Steering Group (the body responsible for coordinating the European Parliament’s involvement in the Brexit negotiations), has repeatedly called for an independent monitoring authority to help hold the UK government to account, which sounds like a terrific idea in the absence of a trustworthy Prime Minister. Of course, the UK government has rejected every suggestion.
My Lib Dem MEP colleague, Irina von Wiese, added her voice to the calls for the EU to create an Associate Citizenship for UK citizens to enjoy their rights and freedoms. I don’t think this will come to pass, but I am happy to report than many of the EU-27 national governments are independently offering good terms to brits who already live and work in their countries. Beyond this, it gave me immense pride to see my MEP colleagues stand up in the debating chamber and speak passionately about the importance of protecting citizens’ rights. Even though we are leaving the EU on January 31st, it is still as important as ever that we use our voices and platforms to speak for those who have neither.
Another matter that I was eager to speak up about was that of the case of the British teenager who has been charged with public mischief in Cyprus. Very real, very urgent questions remain about the conduct under which the legal proceedings took place. That is why myself and my Lib Dem MEP colleagues have written a letter to the Cypriot Minister of Justice and Public Order, George Savvides. We understand that the withdrawal of the original rape allegation took place whilst the young woman was under significant pressure from the Cypriot police. She’s also reported to have been denied a lawyer, which is against Cyprus’ own constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. We are asking that he address any procedural issues that may have taken place during the case and that he ensures her appeal is heard by the Supreme Court.
Thank you, as ever for reading. I look forward to writing to you all again next week.