SOUTH EAST MEP CONDEMNS THE NUMBER OF EU NATIONALS LEFT IN LEGAL LIMBO

Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East of England, has condemned the news, revealed by official figures, that over one hundred thousand EU nationals living in the region have not been offered permanent residency in the UK.

The Liberal Democrats have accused the government of leaving local families from the EU in “legal limbo” and throwing people’s lives into uncertainty. Of the 234,150 EU nationals across the South East who have applied for permanent residency, only 124,560 (53%) have been offered settled status, which only gives the temporary right to stay in the UK.

Another 38,600 (16%) of EU nationals living in the South East have applied for permanent residency but are still waiting for a final decision to be made. 

The status of children is also part of the uncertainty, with 26,980 of the applications for settled status in the South East for those under the age of 18.

Judith says: “Too many EU nationals in the South East are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in our health service and our schools. It’s disgraceful for the Conservative government to leave them in legal limbo like this.

I have spoken to constituents who, three years on, are still waiting for their status to be clarified and have young children who will be significantly affected by this lack of clarity.

“Families and children must not be made to live under a cloud of uncertainty any longer.

“The Liberal Democrats will stop Brexit, protect the rights of EU citizens and build a brighter future for our country.”

SOUTH EAST MEP SUPPORTS AMBITIOUS £10,000 SKILLS WALLET PLEDGE

Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Spokesperson for Education in Europe, has given her backing to what the party has offered as its vision for a “new era of learning throughout life”.

The concept entails the creation of an ambitious Skills Wallet. This will give every adult £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives. It will be paid for by reversing government cuts to corporation tax to bring the rate back to 20%.

Judith, who also sits on the Committee for Culture and Education (CULT) in the European Parliament, says: “The new plan gives people £4,000 for additional training at 25, £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55. It will help us all stay up to date in the workplace and also help people who respond better to training when they are older, outside of college or university.

“A Liberal Democrat government will create a new era of learning throughout adult life with Skills Wallets for every individual, providing £10,000 for each of us to spend on education and training at different stages of life.”

Individuals, their employers and local government will be able to make additional payments into the wallets, if they wish. Access to free careers guidance will also be provided.

Judith continues: “By stopping Brexit and investing in our Skills Wallets, Liberal Democrats will empower people to develop new skills so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to the UK’s economic future and prosperity. 

“Only the Liberal Democrats have a real plan to build a fairer economy and a brighter future.”

 

LIB DEM MEP EDUCATION SPOKESPERSON WELCOMES ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR UK STUDENTS

Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Spokesperson for Education in Europe, has today welcomed the news that the European Commission has called for an additional €3bn worth of funding for the 2020 Erasmus+ programme, a 12% increase from 2019.

Most notably, Erasmus+ provides funding for university students and apprentices to live, learn and work for extended periods of time in EU member states. Since its inception in 1987 it has provided opportunities for over 9m people.

Judith, who also sits on the European Parliament Committee for Culture and Education in Europe (CULT), says: “I am absolutely delighted to see that the European Commission has called for an extra €3bn worth of funding for the Erasmus+ programme. This is a life-changing scheme that enables young people IN THE UK to live, study and train abroad. Erasmus+ symbolises all that’s great about the EU and, most importantly, HELPS ensure young people, are prepared for a world in which business is increasingly done on a global level.

“With this additional funding, the number of young British lives we could embolden by providing them with the means of living in new cultures and learning new languages is endless. That’s why I’m resolute in my belief that by leaving the EU, we would be failing our young people.”

MEP Life 19: history, diplomacy and Korean travels

This past week or so I have had a chance to immerse myself in Korean culture leading a multiparty learning visit to South Korea.

Like many people I am sure, I have read the headlines and am aware of ongoing conflicts and some of the news linked to the Korean Peninsular. Last year at Newbury Talks we had a fascinating talk from Alistair Coleman of BBC monitoring about the relationship between North Korea and the USA. What I learnt in the South was not what I expected to hear.

Before we get to international politics, I was intrigued to learn that South Korea has the fastest internet in the world. They already have 5G up and running and all the areas that I visited were very well connected to high speed mobile networks. The infrastructure is not perfect, there are cables all over the place in a way that the UK would not tolerate, but they still have achieved this very quickly and ahead of Europe.

Our learning tour started at Hanshin University, hearing about the relationship between South Korea and Japan. This is becoming a huge problem. The long running quest for compensation and acknowledgement for women, many now in their 80s and 90s, who were used as sex slaves during Japanese occupation before WWII when many were just children, has become bizarrely mixed up with a high tech trade war. ‘Out of the blue’ a few years ago, Japan slowed the supply of critical chemicals to South Korea’s semi conductor industry. There was no doubt in South Korea that the move was linked to the Supreme Court judgement in favour of reparation from Japan to the so-called ‘comfort women’. This is a full-on collision between high principle and modern trade, and I was sorry to hear that many of the women involved are dying before they have received any formal acknowledgement from Japan. The issue is still live because it is only with the rising gender equality in South Korea, in recent years, that the women have felt able to speak about their experiences.

The other massive issue for South Korea is of course the nuclear North. With China to the North of them and US in the South, they really are stuck in the middle with Kim. It was President Moon who instigated the first contact between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un in an attempt to break years of no progress, and the first surprise for me was to hear Donald Trump spoken of in appreciative terms. Trump’s interventions with Chairman Kim are valued and encouraged. Kim Jong-Un, likewise, is seen as a savvy leader who understands that, as a small country caught between US and China, it is the existence of his nuclear missiles that maintains his country’s existence.

The real surprise in all this was that at the same time as having the unsettling presence of live nuclear missiles just 40 miles from Seoul and being in a fairly impossible position at the crux of this diplomatic cleft stick, we met ministers and diplomats with clear ideas about how relations with the North may yet be eased through increased cultural, diplomatic ties and, eventually, perhaps, through shared industry and trade between the North and South.

South Korea takes inspiration from the EU as a peace project. In the Union they see former enemies working together to create a positive, caring, civil society – and a successful trading block. And they want the same for their future.

Meanwhile, back in the U.K., with an extension to Article 50 in the bag and Johnson’s deal mysteriously ‘paused’, preparations finally began for the General Election on December 12th.

This election offers the opportunity for everyone in the U.K. to have a say in how they wish the country to be run, our relationship with the European Union and our role in the wider world. Do we want to be a bit player on the sidelines or acting alongside our neighbours on the main stage where our renowned experience and expertise in foreign affairs can be – and has been for the past forty years – put to tremendous and lasting good use.

Please make sure that your friends and family are registered to vote. This is the link to share, if they are not: REGISTER

If you fancy getting involved, it’s best to get in touch with your local Remain team and ask how you can help. In every campaign there are tasks for all ages, all energies and many skills, from the muscle to put out those diamonds to telephone skills for the phone canvassing that will be a huge part of this winter election, as well as the usual leaflet stuffing and delivering and all important canvassing.

And remember to tell your friends: Brexit is Not Inevitable.

I look forward to seeing you in the South East in the weeks to come to #StopBrexit

MEP Life 18- Strasbourg and the Commons vote on Withdrawal Act Bill (WAB)

Hello and welcome to MEP Life 18! After the joy of the People’s Vote march, I was off to Strasbourg on Monday for the monthly plenary session, where all MEPs come together to determine Parliament’s position on political issues and vote on the legislative work done in committees.

The debates and votes can be found here, but the only certainty with the current uncertain situation is, of course, further uncertainty- and this week was more of the same.

Brexit had been on the agenda for the October session in Strasbourg for weeks, but with Johnson trying to force his Withdrawal Act Bill (WAB) through the UK parliament and no agreement in Westminster, there was nothing for the European Parliament to vote on.

Instead, on Monday evening I joined a meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) for an update from Michel Barnier on the Brexit state of play. As the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Barnier was well placed to address all MEPs about how Europe is being careful, and respectful of the British government’s decision-making process. Despite the UK stalemate Barnier was clear that is was still for the UK to decide what direction it should take. The EU was not going to force an extension on us while none was required.

Our incredible MEP colleagues who support our remain cause, have been interested in hearing that the mood in the UK is changing and why this makes it critical to go back to the electorate for the People’s Vote. They are particularly sympathetic to the young people who have passed voting age since 2016, who most would agree deserve a vote on their own future.

On Tuesday evening, while Westminster was voting on Johnson’s deal and proposed timetable for putting the Bill through the House of Commons, we waited anxiously in a Renew Europe meeting.

In the first vote, Parliament passed the second reading of the WAB. This made me nervous, I will admit, but is does not mean that Westminster approves a Bill, Simply that MPs agree to send it the ‘Committee Phase’ which is where scrutiny of the document takes place.

When Parliament voted against the ludicrously short timetable for scrutiny, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Johnson can say what he wants, but his proposal that the WAB and associated legislation-should be pushed through three readings and the Committee phase in 3 days, was nothing but the Government trying to steamroll it through without proper scrutiny and with no economic impact assessment report. The British public deserves so much better than to be treated with such contempt.

Interestingly at this point- with an opportunity for adequate examination agreed- Johnson ‘paused’ the WAB and returned to his pitch for a General Election. Could you believe it? One cannot help wonder what it is about scrutiny of the bill that scares him so much?

We are now heading for an election on December 12th. The Liberal Democrat proposal of December 9th was tied to a requirement that the EU needed to have agreed a 3 month extension before this could happen, to forestall an accidental no deal Brexit. We were also attempting to ensure that students are included in this election. Many students are registered to vote at their University digs, rather than their home address – funnily enough this doesn’t worry the Conservatives at all!

So, where are we now? Europe has formally granted the 3 month extension and we have an election on December 12th 2019.

If you care about staying in Europe please seek out your local Liberal Democrat Team- or any Remain candidate from any party- and offer to lend a hand. In any election campaign there are a multitude of tasks to be done from hammering post for signs, to delivering leaflets, to making phonecalls and fundraising. Help with all of these is always welcome!

If you want to get involved then the best advice is find the WEBSITE of your nearest Liberal Democrat office and give them a call!

Finally – ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?

In my first election as candidate, in 2015, on polling day I spoke with the manager and chief assistant in my local Carphone Warehouse. They were both intelligent and capable, but neither knew that to vote you MUST be registered before Election Day.

Is everyone that you know registered to Vote? the cut off date is; NOVEMBER 26th!

It takes 5 mins. You need your national insurance number.

This election is about their future, it is about YOUR future, please share the information and these links to everyone you think might need them.

Help us make sure that those who care about Europe are Registered to Vote! 

LibDems set out plan for December 9th General Election

This week, the Liberal Democrats proposed a Bill that should break the deadlock between Johnson’s government at the EU. 

The Bill amends the Fixed Term Parliament Act to hold a General Election on Monday December 9th.

It is well know that we believe a ‘People’s Vote’ is the best way forward to stop Brexit, but currently we have not been able to get enough support in parliament, from either  left or right, to make this happen. 

Boris Johnson has failed to meet his October 31st ‘do-or-die’ deadline to get out of the EU, and cannot get his Bill through Parliament, so we have been in gridlock.

This Bill succeeds in three direction at the same time: First it forces a General Election on December 9th. It also takes no-deal off the table, and removes from Boris Johnson any control of when the next General Election takes place. 

The Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit, and have led the campaign for a People’s Vote. 

We have put down 17 amendments arguing for a PV and voted for PV amendments seven times. In contrast, 19 Labour MPs backed Boris Johnson’s Brexit Bill and Jeremy Corbyn refused to back our People’s Vote amendment last week.

There are millions of people in the UK who believe that we are better off inside the EU, and they deserve a better choice than two Brexiteers in Johnson and Corbyn.

We are ready to take our pro-European message to the country, where our policy will be that a Liberal Democrat majority government will revoke Article 50 to Stop Brexit.

A view from behind the Lens- feedback on the Apprentices’ trip 2019

Hello there, Felix here from Judith’s team.

As a lot of you will know, Judith recently hosted a group of 24 young apprentices from the South East of England. We assembled at King’s Cross St. Pancras International, meeting up with groups of apprentices who’d travelled from across the region, Kent, West Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Names were checked off lists, tickets were distributed and before we knew it, we were passing through the Channel Tunnel and on our way to Brussels!

On arrival we met Kate Coulson, our colleague who is a Parliamentary Assistant (APPA) working in Judith’s Brussels office. She handed over our tickets and kindly set us in the direction of the hostel, which gave us our first taste of the famed Brussels transport system! Comfortable as the trains were, the lack of signage was a little unsettling. Fortunately, our Chief of Staff, Gabrielle was on hand to save the day. Indeed, legend has it she has yet to encounter a language she cannot master, so it was in her impeccable French that we placed our trust, which ultimately got us to our accommodation in time to kick start our busy itinerary!

During the first evening we had a fantastic event in the MEP salon. Several of Judith’s fellow Liberal Democrat MEP’s took the time to discuss with our visitors, the EU and how central opportunities for young people are to it. Ben Butters, a representative from EUROCHAMBRES, highlighted just how globalised the workplace now is, and how the apprentices could best make use of that environment. Speaking personally, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious. To follow MEPs or Chief Executives online, or on TV, is one thing, but to actually have direct access to them and the opportunity to pick their brains, as our apprentices did afterwards, is absolutely brilliant! It was great to see them take up those opportunities. On an anecdotal level it was also fascinating to speak with the apprentices and hear about their experiences of apprenticeships, which were universally positive. All too often, university is simply presented as the default route, yet we know it’s not a “one size fits all” situation and these apprentices were evidence of that.

The second day started with the somewhat more relaxed option of the bus, which we took to the European Parliament Visitor’s Centre. Here we were greeted by an experienced civil servant from the European Commission, who gave us a fascinating talk on the EU. The EU as a topic has dominated the news agenda now for almost four years, but rarely, if ever, do you get the chance to hear about it and all of its institutions, conventions and processes explained with such clarity. Again, it was fantastic for us all to get such an insight. We were then given a tour of the building, including the hemicycle. Its modern and practical approach was extremely refreshing and is something our own parliament could take note from! Each seat had a set of buttons from which the sitting MEP could vote instead of having to pile out of the doors and into separate chambers, as they do in Westminster. There were also enough seats for all the members, a concept our own House of Commons has yet to grasp.

After that it was into the city centre for another Belgian delicacy: frites! an afternoon spent exploring the city by virtue of a scavengers hunt, before hopping back on the same Eurostar as a certain Liberal Democrat party grandee by the name of Vince Cable.

All in all, a terrific trip and hopefully a great opportunity for our young people to appreciate just how many wonderful opportunities are out there for them to make use of. I look forward to the next one!

Felix

 

MEP Life 17- Parliament, Protests and the Apprentices’ visit to Brussels!

So much seems to have happened in the last week! I will do my best to do it justice!

On Monday I was appalled to watch the racist taunts in the football stadium at the game between England and Bulgaria. I have supported football as a football-Mum and local activist for community sports and there is NO place for racism on the pitch. I was glad to be joined by my fellow MEPs in a letter which I sent to the President of UEFA denouncing the behaviour of those fans and calling on him to do better to create a zero tolerance environment for this behaviour. Copy of letter to UEFA president 161019

On Tuesday, I spoke at a rare diseases conference in London, invited by the Genetic Alliance. The theme was “connecting communities” and I was glad to offer advice about how charities and activists can connect and communicate with the media, through documentaries as well as news. It was interesting to sit on a cooperative panel with Fiona Fox, Head of the Science Media Centre.

It was swiftly off to Brussels, thereafter, for the big event of the week!

This was the week when a big group of Apprentices from the South and East of England came to visit the European Parliament to get a sense of how it works and find out more about Apprentice opportunities in Europe.

The trip opened with a reception which became a brilliant evening when the 40 or so Apprentices arrived. I was joined by the Chair of the Liberal Democrats in Europe; George Cunningham, Luisa Nethsinga MEP and Ben Butters Deputy President of EUROCHAMBRES, who works with many employers in Europe who take apprentices under their winding.

My thanks to all speakers, to my team for organising, to all employers who supported their apprentices to come on this trip and to the young people for visiting. It was really great to meet you all and hear about what you are doing . I wish you all the very best of luck for the future.

Day 2 of the trip took the apprentices behind the scenes to find it a little about how the Parliament works and how the EP connects with the Commission and the Council or Leaders, as well as learning more about what an MEP does in their #MEPLife – the sort of thing I write about in these blogs, here, to share what goes on in Brussels and de-mystify the EU. The lack of information about what goes on over the years is part of what has led to so many misconceptions about the EU. In the past we have had to rely on mainstream media which, before Brexit, was not interested – mainly because what goes on is calm, reasonable and extraordinarily democratic. Each step of the EU model is subject to intense and sometimes frustratingly slow scrutiny by those elected – none of which makes for a good headline!

News around Brexit changed from day to day through the week – would Johnson present a viable deal, would the Eu accept it, what was in it the new deal and is it good for the UK – and all our MEPs were being called on by the media. For me that meant Radio Kent, a discussion on EuroNews with Claire Fox (sister of the (if only) more famous Fiona) and two appearances on Sky – where I think I got my message out pretty clearly 😉

The bottom line is that although Johnson has done something clever with the Northern Ireland border, the proposed deal opens the door for a total No Deal Br it for the rest of the country. Most people agree that this deal is worse for the UK than May’s deal. We have to encourage our friends and MPs at home not to just seize it ‘to get the thing done’. We cannot allow exasperation to take our attention away from the future of the UK. This is a lousy deal for Britain. At the very least we need a referendum, a people’s vote, on the Johnson Deal to find out what the country thinks now that we have actual information in front of us.

We also need to think about the young people who would have to live with any Brexit for a lot longer than me and my friends. Like most of the apprentices who came to visit, this week, since 2016 more than 1.6m youngsters have come to voting age. They deserve a vote on their future.

On Saturday supporters of a People’s Vote marched in London. The turn out was extraordinary, much bigger than previous marches, but once again, a very varied crowd. I was marching with the Lib Dems, of course, but huge numbers of people who think Brexit is bad for Britain are non-aligned. Some campaign through the cross-party and no-party Grassroots groups who are pro Europe such as Peoples Vote and affiliated pro European groups from across the Country. Often with home-made signs; Humorous and creative. They don’t care about party politics, they just know that Brexit will hurt our children and our children’s children.

When the Letwin amendment passed and so-called Super Saturday was thwarted the shout that went up in Parliament Square could be heard in the Houses of Parliament itself. Judith Letwin Amendment response

I do not pretend to know what will happen over the next few days, but it was clear that the estimated million – yes a million- protestors made their views very clear on Saturday.

So my message to you is stay strong and stay calm. We cannot let Johnson bounce the country into Brexit. He has his deal on the table.

Now we need a chance to vote on it for ourselves.

#StopBrexit

South East MEP calls on UEFA President to take zero tolerance approach to racism

Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East of England, has written to UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin following the racist abuse directed at England’s black players on Monday evening in Sofia, Bulgaria.

In the letter, which was co-signed by 35 cross-party MEPs, Judith says: “It is appalling to see players subjected to this kind of abuse and discrimination. While we welcome the measures already taken, such as the introduction of disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria and, in consequence, the resignation of the President of the Bulgarian Football Union, more stringent measures must be established throughout football in Europe.”

The letter specifically called for UEFA to increase action to prohibit Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in order to ensure all football authorities and fans in Europe are aware that such behaviour will result in severe consequences.

UEFA today released a statement which read: “…the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent.”

While Judith welcomes the statement, she is eager to impress upon UEFA the importance of taking a zero-tolerance approach. She says: “UEFA must take action against anyone found to be abusing player…this behaviour cannot be tolerated.”

Copy of letter to UEFA president 161019

MEP Life 16- Brussels, Swinson and a week of #StopBrexit visitors

Another busy and exciting week in Brussels. You’ll recall the week before last we had a round of Commissioner-Designate hearings, which provided us MEPs with a great opportunity to scrutinise what are essentially incoming European Ministers. I was able to attend more last week, including, Margrethe Vestager’s, whose proposed portfolio is “Europe fit for the digital age competition” and gave a good presentation. These are fantastically democratic procedures and help highlight any issues, such as financial irregularities or potential conflicts of interest. Three candidates have been rejected by the Parliament so far which means the whole commission goes back to Ursula Von Der Leyen’s drawing board. I doubt we will see a conclusion to the process now before December.

On Wednesday, my fellow MEPs and I welcomed party leader Jo Swinson to Brussels.  As the only mainstream anti-Brexit party, it’s fallen to the Lib Dems to protect the relationship that the UK has with our European allies. Amongst the back-turning, the shouting, and the insults, it is important that we treat our closest allies with the respect they deserve.

We also had an important debate on Brexit in Parliament that evening where both Junker and Barnier were in attendance. Frustratingly, though unsurprisingly, they both spoke of how the British Government’s latest proposals still do not satisfy their minimum requirements of preserving the integrity of the single market, protecting the all-Ireland economy and honouring the Good Friday Agreement. The truth is, the Brexit fantasy we were all promised means that all three of these things are impossible. That is the reality of the situation and that’s why it’s time to Stop Brexit altogether.

From a personal perspective, the debate was memorable for a whole different reason. Those of you who follow me on social media will know what I’m talking about!

We also had a fantastic meeting with our colleagues in Renew Europe. For those of you who aren’t aware, Renew Europe is the European Parliament group that Liberal Democrat MEPs sit in. There’s 108 of us all together and we’re united in our belief in the provision of sound social values within a live and let live society. These friends are indispensable allies for us at the moment in our campaign to bring an end to this Brexit nightmare.

On Thursday, Catherine Bearder and I were  delighted to welcome Niamh O’Connell to Brussels. Niamh lives in Reading where we met at Reading Pride. She also gave a fantastic speech last month at conference, despite being just 13 years-old! Niamh is passionate about making sure that, amongst all the Brexit noise, the voices of young people are still heard. After all, it’s their future we’re messing around with. It makes me truly happy to see more and more young people like Niamh engaged with politics and, better yet, not afraid to show it.

My team and I have also been busy putting in the final preparations on our apprentices’ trip to Brussels next week! We’ve got over 20 young and enthusiastic apprentices from all over the South East joining us for two days. More information to come!