The Week in Brussels – 14 June 2017

Above: with new North West MEP, Wajid Khan, and Julie Ward MEP


I’ve just returned from my first week in Brussels. Taking over as MEP mid-term means that you have to run around setting everything up again almost from scratch - but we are getting there.

As well as getting my new office up and running, I was able to attend my first parliamentary meeting - of the Committee on Regional Development. This is the committee which looks at how best to support the various regions of the EU, from the South East of England to the North East of Romania and everywhere in between. In particular, this is done through “cohesion funding”, with EU money being spent on targeted projects to help deliver economic growth and jobs in those areas of the Union that need it most. The Regional Development Committee oversees this funding and holds the European Commission to account for how it is spent.

On Wednesday of this week, the Committee held a hearing with the Estonian Minister for Public Administration. Estonia will hold the rotating presidency of the European Council for the next six months, and the Minister was in Parliament to set out Estonia’s four priorities for the second half of 2017: an open and innovative European economy; a safe and secure Europe; a more digitally connected Europe; and an inclusive and sustainable Europe. The UK gave up its turn at the presidency after the 'leave' vote the EU last year. 

As the Minister ran through these priorities, and the thinking behind each of them, it struck home yet again just how much the UK is going to suffer by walking away from the EU. The Minister rightly said, with real pride, that the single market of the EU - the means by which European companies can tap into a marketplace of 500 million consumers - is one of its greatest achievements. The Single Market was also, very largely, a British achievement. It is what allows small businesses, like the one I used to run, to sell their products and services all over the continent, to grow and take on new staff. Membership of that market means more jobs for any country which takes part.

Yet the Tory government back home, now with no parliamentary majority or mandate for their policies, is determined to yank us out not just of the single market but also the customs union and all the benefits that come with it. Such an act of economic self-harm, which will make us poorer as a country, was nowhere on the ballot paper last June. To opt for the hardest of hard Brexits is not enacting “the will of the people” - it is a purely political decision, and an idiotic one at that.

In the committee meeting, I was struck by something the Minister said about the benefits of the Single Market. He said that it gives businesses an environment which is “simple, predictable and supportive”. As a businessman myself, I can vouch for how important that is. What on earth is simple, predictable or supportive about the disastrous path Theresa May is intent on walking us down?

I have always thought leaving the EU is a terrible idea. Having spent my first couple of weeks in the European Parliament - meeting my colleagues from 27 other countries, hearing their hopes and ambitions for the future of the EU and listening to them reiterate the many benefits that their countries gain from being members - I am more convinced than ever that we are making a terrible mistake as a country. It is heartbreaking to see the extent to which our national future is being dictated by a group of bitter, out-of-touch Tory backbenchers.

With the time that I have as an MEP, I am determined to use the platform that it gives me to do some good - for the UK as a whole, and for my constituents in the South East in particular. To me, that means engaging fully and properly with my counterparts from the other 27 member states, and doing everything in my power to limit the damage that Theresa May and her team risk inflicting on our country.