"I intend to serve five years." British MEP's take senior positions in the European Parliament in-spite of Brexit.
A recent oped by The Guardian had this to say about the appointment of Liberal Democrat MEP's to senior positions in the European Union:
British ministers and officials will cease to take part in most EU meetings from 1 September. The government says it makes sense to “unshackle” officials from Brussels business, but to the Liberal Democrat MEP Lucy Nethsingha the decision sounds crazy. Elected in May this year, she intends to play her full role in the parliament.
Nethsingha, a former special needs teacher, is one of a handful of British MEPs voted into leading roles on European parliament committees, which play a significant role in EU lawmaking. In normal times this would be nothing unusual, but in these topsy-turvy Brexit days it’s no small feat. In the days after the 2016 referendum, some continental MEPs were agitating for British politicians to quit senior posts immediately.
“It is a huge vote of confidence in British MEPs,” said Nethsingha, now chair of the legal affairs committee, which was responsible for a bitterly contested overhaul of copyright law in the last parliament. “We were slightly concerned when our names went forward that people would say: ‘We can’t have British MEPs chairing committees,’ but in fact that hasn’t been said at all.”
She said she was disgusted by the government’s “shortsighted” decision to quit EU meetings, and that the UK would continue to be “enormously influenced” by decisions made by the EU whether inside or out. “To give up that influence while we can still use it and are still a full member of the EU is just crazy,” she said.
Another Liberal Democrat, Chris Davies, was elected to chair the fisheries committee, and a third, Irina von Wiese, is first vice-president of the human rights committee. The Lib Dems had a record 16 MEPs elected in May as anti-Brexit voters abandoned Labour and Conservatives.
Despite Labour’s losses, the party’s returning London MEP Seb Dance is a vice-president of the powerful environment, public health and food safety committee, and its North West England MEP Julie Ward is a vice-president on education and culture, which scrutinises European spending on film, music and the arts.
These committees are where much of the heavy lifting of EU lawmaking is done. Consisting of between 25 and 75 MEPs, they draft reports on EU legislative proposals that are used in negotiations with EU ministers to hammer out a final version of the law.
As a new arrival to the parliament, Nethsingha admitted it would be a steep learning curve. She won her post after mainstream political groups joined forces to block a far-right MEP from taking it. UK political parties except for the Brexit party and the Democratic Unionist party sit in groups with their sister parties and allies across Europe. Under the parliament’s d’Hondt system, senior positions are divvied up between groups, but an informal cordon sanitaire continues to block the far right despite its recent gains.
Nethsingha said she found the parliament inspiring. “All these different people, speaking their different languages in the lifts but all cooperating and trying to find compromises together so we can move forward as a united bloc in the world.”
Did it make sense to choose British MEPs with a sell-by date of 31 October for senior posts? “Not for one second do I take for granted that we leave on 31 October,” said Davies, an MEP between 1999 and 2014 before losing his seat when the Lib Dems were reduced to just one representative. Given Boris Johnson’s “do or die” pledge to leave by 31 October, some will say Davies is ignoring reality, but he insisted he thought the autumn deadline would be missed. “I intend to serve a five-year term to ensure that Brexit doesn’t happen.”
The Lib Dems’ stubborn campaign to overturn Brexit could lead to tense encounters with their French allies in La République en Marche, the party created by Emmanuel Macron, who is the strictest opponent of dragging out Britain’s departure. The two parties are part of Renew Europe, the third largest group in the European parliament.
While the dynamic between the two is unpredictable, being in the same group raises the prospect of a backchannel between defiant British remainers and the Élysée.
Unlike Macron, the Lib Dems want the longest possible Brexit extension. “We want the council [of EU leaders] to say: ‘You Brits go away and come back and tell us when you know what you really want’,” Davies said.
Davies, who says he is the only MEP to have walked around the corridors of the European parliament dressed as a fish – to raise awareness of overfishing - is already planning his work programme. He wants to get to grips with the unexpected collapse of North Sea cod numbers after a recovery went into reverse, leading campaigners to declare a crisis that they say requires a 70% reduction in catch.
The threat to Britain’s favourite fish will have to be addressed despite Brexit. The UK’s small fishing industry has become an emotive issue, but Davies said the fundamental question was not access but more fish in the sea. “The volumes are miserable compared to 100 years ago. The object of any sensible long-term policy must be to build up stocks so there is more fish for everyone.”
He said he wanted to listen to the Brexit party on this question, while voicing his disgust with recent comments from one of its MEPs who called for foreign fishing vessels to be given the “same treatment as the Belgrano”, the Argentinian cruiser the Royal Navy sank with the loss of hundreds of lives.
The two sides in the Brexit saga will be thrown together often in Brussels and Strasbourg, but it is not always a confrontation. Recalling a recent shared car journey from the station into Brussels with two Brexit party MEPs, Nethsingha said with a smile: “We were quite polite to each other.”