Brexit – Where do we go now?

Many people are feeling a profound sense of sadness at the prospect of the UK, or England and Wales at least, leaving the EU. I share this feeling and remain convinced that our future would be much safer and more prosperous inside the European Union. This is not the result that Greens wanted; many activists and Green Party members worked tirelessly for many months to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. Personally, I worked as hard as I know how, travelling the region, making the arguments and listening to people on both sides.

People are understandably searching for reassurance and the referendum result has prompted a plethora of reactions and ideas about what we should do now. Many people feel that the referendum was won on a false prospectus, and was a vote against something that had been turned into a bogeyman and with no alternative on offer. I agree with this.

I was also profoundly shocked by the tactics of intimidation that were used during the campaign, and the inability of people to listen to views they did not share. Being able to do so is the basis of democracy and I feel our most important task now is to stand together to defend democracy and the standards of public debate that we have traditionally enjoyed. We must stand with communities across the UK to fight racism, xenophobia and discrimination; stronger communities can help heal the divisions caused by the referendum campaign.

I believe that the calls for an immediate rerun of the referendum would be undemocratic and add strength to the argument of those who say their voice is not heard. However, this voice was only one of opposition, with no clear sense of what the alternative to EU membership might be. I therefore believe that it would be valid to allow a second vote in the future, when it is clear what the alternative to EU membership would look like.

Although many of the debates during the referendum campaign were focused on European issues, underlying it was a power grab by senior politicians seeking to move our country radically to the right. Since people from both right and left voted to leave the EU and there are a wide range of views about how we should proceed post-Brexit, the result has no weight in terms of what happens at Westminster. Also, because the Prime Minister has resigned and Brexit will bring huge political upheaval, including the possible breakup of the United Kingdom, people should have a chance to have their say on the sort of country we want to build together. This means that in my view an early general election before the end of year is inevitable.

Greens will be campaigning hard for democratic reform in the UK and for changing our outmoded electoral system to one that is truly representative. We will explore possibilities for electoral alliances and pacts where we can agree on a progressive programme and commitment to proportional representation.

I thank those of you who worked so hard to preserve our place in the Union that we value so much and I appreciate the very many messages of support and solidarity that you have sent. These are dark days but by showing each other compassion and by standing together strongly in support of a revitalised democracy we can find a way to build a stronger and more peaceful country.




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Why I’ll be voting Remain tomorrow

The Green Party and I strongly believe in participatory democracy, and a commitment to a public referendum was included in our manifesto at last year’s General Election. We stand for Three Yeses to Europe – Yes to a referendum, Yes to EU reform, and Yes to staying in a reformed Europe. 

I will be voting to remain tomorrow. As I outlined  in plenary of the European Parliament, I want Britain to remain a part of the EU because I believe that we need to work together on shared solutions to the collective challenges we face. Climate change, the pollution of our oceans, terrorism and the refugee crisis shows no respect for borders and require collaborative and cooperative solutions. Isolationist politics can play no part in today’s globalised world.

Through this campaign it’s become clear there are concerns of some that the European project has been running ahead of what the people of the UK and Europe as a whole are comfortable with. I share these but I think a significant part of this is driven by poor coverage in the UK media of just what goes on at the EU level and how decisions are made. I still believe the European story should be celebrated; countries with different histories and cultures, benefitting from unprecedented peace and stability and working together for the common good.

It’s clear that the EU is strong when it works together: Whilst the Out campaign are unsure about whether they would like Britain to have a relationship like Norway or Switzerland or neither, it is important to note that these are both small countries with specialised ‘niche’ economies: Switzerland with its often-criticised banking system, and Norway with its massive oil reserves. Both countries’ industries have to follow EU rules as that is their main market and as non-members, they have no say over the adoption of those EU rules. They cannot defend their interests. They have, effectively, lost sovereignty through their isolation — as the Norwegian government itself admits. Nor does staying out save money — the Norwegian contribution per capita to the European budget is about the same as that of the UK.

There are many fundamental reasons myself, the Green Party, and my colleagues, (other elected MEPs from across Europe) in the Greens-EFA group of the European Parliament want the UK to stay in the EU as I’ve covered on this blog before.

  • Peace and democracy – The EU has helped secure peace among previously warring Western European nations. It helped to consolidate democracy in former Soviet bloc countries and has helped preserve peace in the Balkans since the end of the Balkans War. With the UN it now plays a leading role in conflict prevention, Peacekeeping, and democracy building.
  • Equal pay and non-discrimination – Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law, as are bans on discrimination by age, race or sexual orientation. This benefits Britain, and the many British people who live across Europe.
  • Environmental protection – Pollution and climate change don’t respect national borders, so we need cross-border solutions to these challenges. Europe was a key player in the COP 21 negotiations in Paris, and sets the bar high globally for environmental legislation. For example in the South West, the bathing waters scheme has drastically improved the quality of our beaches.
  • Influence in the world – As a group of democracies, and as the world’s biggest market, the EU is strong when it works together. Britain is represented in many international organisations in joint EU delegations, and drives a strong human rights agenda across the world, recently calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia for example. The EU plays a major role in climate, world trade and development.
  • Fighting crime – The European Arrest Warrant replaced long extradition procedures and enables the UK to extradite criminals wanted in other EU countries, and bring to justice criminals wanted in the UK who are hiding in other EU countries. Eurojust helps UK authorities work with other EU countries’ to tackle international organised crime such as drug smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering.
  • Research funding – The UK is the second largest beneficiary of EU research funds, and the British Government alongside our academics expect future EU research funding to constitute a vital source of income for our world-leading universities and companies. Exeter University just this February received€700,000 EU funding to study our future food, water and energy security.

We recognise that the European Union isn’t perfect; it would be idyllic to think so. However, being at the table means that we are able to push for real progressive reform – something the Greens continue to do. Following a vote in Parliament to protect the EU’s world leading Nature Directives, I spoke in plenary about my commitment to a Europe of peace and unity, and later that day about how I will be using European powers to investigate the Google tax scandal in the UK.

It’s evident that those who fantasise about Brexit are driven by ideologies that impact the worst off in our society the hardest, through their contempt for our high social and environmental standards. It’s also certain the markets will be equally as unforgiving, and again, they will shoulder the burden. But my commitment to our European project isn’t through fear, it’s through celebrating all we’ve achieved in strength and unity. We shouldn’t be thinking of leaving Europe, we should be leading it loud and proud.

Tomorrow we’ll be asked a question bigger than any single one of us. Whatever the outcome Friday morning, the result will impact our entire society. 

Will There Be an EU Army?

There have been a lot of ungrounded scare stories during the EU debate and one of these that has reared its ugly head lately is the idea that there is a plan for an EU army. That British soldiers might fight under an EU flag is one of these exaggerated myths designed to frighten rather than communicate clearly what the EU is about.

It is true that there are EU politicians who would like to see a unified European Army. However, in what typifies the democratic structure of the European Union, any merging of forces cannot happen without the consent of all 28 countries in the EU agreeing to it. Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty (which is fully public) states that what it calls ‘a common defence’ would require unanimity in the European Council, meaning that every single government would have to agree to it. The UK even has an extra clause – if our government did in fact wish to merge an EU army, any proposal on defence mergers must be put to a UK referendum so that we’d get the final say directly.

Current EU military efforts remain tentative and are largely intergovernmental rather than EU-based, and the Common Security and Defence Policy entails few obligations. Current projects include training anti-jihadists in Mali and disrupting human traffickers in the Mediterranean. Countries can veto each operation and largely decide how much to contribute on a case-by-case basis. EU military staff do not become part of an EU military bur remain employed by their national governments operating on secondment to the EU military staff.

If we remain in the EU after 23rd June, little is set to change without our consent, and this level of cooperation will continue. Obviously, it is impossible to say what the outcome of negotiations over security cooperation would be in the event that we leave, however it is worth noting that as we are arguably the country most opposed to any
‘EU army’, so leaving could actually make it more likely.

The European Gendarmerie Force or EUROGENDFOR is not an EU body, but its stated aim is to participate to the stabilisation of crisis and conflict areas outside the European Union. It only has 7 member countries, and the UK is not one. It has not been deployed in any EU country. It is currently engaged in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and missions in Central African Republic and Sahel Mali and was previously deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the UN mission in Haiti, as well as in a NATO mission Afghanistan. The Bosnia-Herzegovina mission remained under the control of the ambassadors of EU countries but was led by British former soldier Paddy Ashdown as High Representative. Ashdown worked to strengthen the central state institutions, bringing in statewide legal bodies such as State Investigation and Protection Agency and bringing the two ethnic armies under a central civilian command.

So the claim that the EU could somehow create an EU army against British will and behind closed doors is utterly untrue. There is also no prospect of British soldiers fighting under an EU flag. It is likely that we will continue to cooperate in military operations where we have common objectives and where cooperation can help to achieve these.

Peace and Nation building through the EU

“The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.” This is the first point in Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting out the aims of the European Union. Those in favour of Brexit suggest that democracies simply do not go to war with each other, but they don’t recognise that the EU has been central to ensuring the peaceful transition to those democracies across our continent.

This week we celebrated Europe Day (9th), marking the famous Schuman declaration in 1950 that set out a vision for Europe that would make war on our continent “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” Since then, and with the UK playing an important role since joining in 1973, the EU has been performing a vital purpose that other organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) cannot – democratic nation building.

To be considered for EU membership, European countries must meet certain criteria. The EU accession process is completely different from NATO requirements for membership, with candidate countries wishing to join the EU requiring progressive democratic reform of the constitution, public administration, and much more. The impact and following through of these reforms are monitored by experts in the candidate countries, as well as in Brussels and elsewhere. Today, we take for granted the successes of this process. We’ve seen countries under previous dictatorships or authoritarian rule transitioning to democracies that enshrine human rights, the rule of law, and the right of every citizen to vote. With its enlargement in the 1980s to Greece, Spain and Portugal; the European Union consolidated democracy in these former fascist dictatorships. The later enlargements in 2004 and 2007 also saw us secure democracy in 10 former communist countries following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Arguably one of the greatest recent successes has been the brokering of peace between Kosovo and Serbia. In 2013, the EU brokered the Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between the two countries, which had previously had a tense relationship ever since the Kosovo war in 1999, with Serbia up until this agreement failing to respect Kosovo’s independence. Both nations see the EU as a common focal point to work towards, allowing the EU to bring them together and reconcile their differences that had existed since the Yugoslav wars. And since 2008 the EU has also maintained a Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, further helping this young country’s democratic transition. In recognition of our recent history, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee said its decision was based on the stabilising role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace. In a time when far right populism is increasing in some states, and with climate change predicted to exacerbate future crises across the globe, pulling out of arguably the world’s most successful peace project would put Britain on the wrong side of history.

Twenty-eight countries sharing sovereignty for the betterment of all their citizens – that’s what we can use as the best weapon against todays creeping Nationalism. That’s part of the European Union winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and that’s what we’re fighting for on 23rd June.

UK influence within the EU dissected

Last week Vote Watch, an international NGO that tracks the votes of MEPs, released this special report looking at the effect the UK has had on EU legislation. The report looks at the two bodies responsible for amending and passing legislation from the European Commission – the Council of the EU, where we send UK ministers, and the European Parliament, where we send our 73 MEPs. So does their report vindicate the Leave camp’s claims that we have no influence?

One of the first things of note from their analysis is the big increase in cases of conflict in the Council when comparing the 2004-2009 period and the 2009-2015 period, i.e. when we started sending Tories, we started voting against or abstaining a lot more against EU wide interests, particularly on budgetary policies, foreign and security policy, and international development. This means that we went from being on the losing side 2.6% of the time during 04-09 to 12.3% during 09-15. Obviously on the flip side, this also shows that we were still voting and winning in almost 9/10 cases!

For those still complaining we have little influence, take note – with 22 MEPs, UKIP are our largest delegation in the Parliament. The report shows that UKIP MEPs’ capacity to exert influence in the European Parliament is significantly diminished by their very low participation rate in EP votes: in the first year of the current term, UKIP’s delegation has had a record low participation rate of just 62.3% in plenary votes, which places it at the very bottom among all national party delegations in the EU. Meanwhile, Greens/EFA MEPs have a much higher turnout, and have won (voted with the winning side) in 64% of votes since 2004.

And so onto positions of relative power in the Parliament. In short, UK MEPs have captured many agenda-setting positions. We have had Vice-Presidents, political group leaders, and Chairs of important committees. UK MEPs have also won rapporteurships (lead negotiator position) on key legislation, which has enabled them to shape EU law. Moreover, UK MEPs have not been ‘underrepresented’ relative to the MEPs from the other big member states. All of this has been possible despite the growing number of UKIP MEPs, who, along with their poor attendance have not competed for many key offices or rapporteurships.

The end of the report summarises with some of the main political influence that the UK has had. From a Green perspective it paints a mixed picture, with the UK driving support for nuclear and unconventional energies like fracking, and hampering action on tax avoidance, but also contributing significantly to the EU budget and enhancing copyright laws.

So there you have it then – the UK has plenty of influence, but if the people we send just aren’t up to the job, then you can’t expect to return a positive change for citizens across Europe.

EU Calls for End to Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

It is now a full year since Saudi Arabia began bombing in Yemen and it is time we put pressure on our government to stop selling arms to this regime which is breaking international law.

In February MEPs voted for a European Union-wide arms embargo against Saudi Arabia to protest against the Gulf state’s bombing in Yemen which is a violation of international law that has resulted in thousands of deaths. The European parliament voted by a large majority for an EU-wide ban on arms sales to the kingdom, citing the “disastrous humanitarian situation” as a result of “Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen”. The resolution criticised the “intensification of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition”.

The Parliament does not have the power to force members of the EU to act but it is a clear statement of the position of the majority of European people. The motion, based on a proposal put forward by the Green Group, was passed by 359 votes to 212, with a majority made up of Socialists, Liberals, Greens, Leftists and Eurosceptics. Britain’s Conservatives, reflecting continued support for the arms industry by our national government at the cost of innocent lives. In the last year the Foreign Office has supplied export licences for up to £3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia; the UK has been the largest supplier of arms to the region since 2010.

The UK has also been accused of direct involvement in the bombing campaign because there are British military in Saudi, although the government claims they are only involved in training. And Cameron was involved in the absurd situation where Saudi Arabia was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Although we are not seeing enough pressure on Saudi and it is a disgrace that they are using British-made arms to kill children in Yemen, none the less it is clear that outside the EU we would not even see the constraint of EU human rights policy to prevent the immoral arms sales our government relishes.

What Has the EU Done for Women?

It’s easy to point to examples of things that the EU has done to make life fairer for women.

Because we’re in Europe the UK has to abide by rules which were put in place by the EU to protect and promote equality and women’s rights in the workplace. Not only that, but the EU has helped tackle gender discrimination and fight against income inequality.

It has given us maternity leave and work protections during pregnancy as well as rules preventing harassment and unequal treatment at work, which means women in Britain benefit from the EU every day. We are guaranteed a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave when we give birth, four months to care for children aged under eight months and the right to go back to our jobs after taking maternity leave.

The EU also introduced rules which protect us from being discriminated against or harassed at work, something which was sadly once commonplace.

But it does much more than just protect women’s rights at work. The EU is also the driving force behind ending violence against women and preventing sexual exploitation, both in the UK and around the continent. It offers opportunity to young women to learn and develop in the shape of educational programmes and does so much more.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that some of the leading campaigners for us to leave the EU also turn out to be dinosaurs when it comes to women’s rights. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said working mothers are worth less than men, London Mayor Boris Johnson said women only go to university “to find men to marry” and leave campaigner George Galloway was named Sexist of the Year for describing sexual assault as “bad manners”.

Every woman who has taken maternity leave, benefited from anti-discrimination laws, or got a job created by doing business on the continent has the EU to thank, at least in part. This is something to bear in mind as you weigh up your decision about how to vote on 23 June.