The Lib Dem ‘Stop Brexit’ campaign will actually work – so what if it ruffled a few feathers at EU parliament?

As deputy leader of Liberal Democrat MEPs, it’s important to give the people who voted for me a chance to be heard. No matter the criticism, we will fight an insurgent campaign to Remain

Luisa Porritt
Thursday 04 July 2019 15:23
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Brexit Party MEPs turn their backs on European anthem during EU parliament opening ceremony

At the constitutive meeting of MEPs in the French City of Strasbourg yesterday, I proudly donned a yellow t-shirt emblazoned with “Stop Brexit” on the front and “Bollocks to Brexit" on my back. Cheered by many passers by, we marched together into the chamber of European democracy, the plenary of the European parliament.

Ninety-five days after the UK was supposed to leave the EU, I proudly put my voting card into use, on behalf of the Londoners who voted for me to represent them in Europe. Unlike the Brexit Party, who childishly turned their backs during a recital of the European anthem, I stood proud in the belief that there is no contradiction between my identities. I am a Londoner, I am a proud Brit and I am a European. No one, least of all Nigel Farage and his band of speculators and vulture capitalists, will make me choose between them.

While I am no fan of the fact that the European parliament has two seats and the waste that this unnecessarily entails, to be here in Strasbourg with my colleagues from across our great continent was an emotional moment. The choice of Strasbourg as a European capital after the horrors of the Second World War, in which so many British people lost their lives, is no accident. The city stands as a shining symbol of reconciliation between peoples and of the future of Europe.

Like them or loathe them, being part of EU institutions gives us a vital source of influence and power for Britain in a rapidly changing global world order. From Donald Trump’s despotic behaviour and his damaging “America First” economic introversion, to Vladimir Putin’s declaration that "liberalism is over", I firmly believe that Europe must once again become a bastion of freedom, opportunity and individual liberty.

Britain and its people should play a full part in that and membership of the European Union is central to achieving this aim. Under the Conservative Party of late, Britain has abandoned its traditional role in promoting European cooperation. Cowed by the Murdoch press, terrified Tory MPs refuse to stand up for liberal values, even in their own backyard. Yet they dare to wrap up their words in the Union Jack.

Illiberal, far right European politicians are welcomed to Downing Street, while Tory MEPs oppose collective EU attempts to prevent rule of law backsliding and the rise of “mini Trumps” in central and eastern Europe, for example by refusing to support steps to sanction actions against Viktor Orban in Hungary. Failing to stand up for the fundamental values of liberal democracies is not patriotism.

How dare the Brexit Party and their Conservative cousins tell us Liberal Democrats that we are weak or “pathetic” as Kate Hoey suggested yesterday. We are not the ones walking away from the greatest peace project known in European history. Weakness is advocating the destruction of the European Union and promoting a return to the violent nationalism of the past.

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Britain’s wartime leaders would be turning in their graves at the disrespect that Brexit Party MEPs showed to our fellow European MEPs today in Strasbourg. Margaret Thatcher, who sent her ministers to Brussels to create today’s European Single Market, would be horrified by the “f*** business” hollows of her potential successors in the modern-day Conservative Party. The very same Conservative Party MPs who now have the temerity to accuse us of “Brexit Party” tactics, for standing up for the millions of passionate pro-Europeans in Britain.

At the end of my first day as an elected MEP, I wandered through Strasbourg’s Place Kléber, the venue for one of Winston Churchill’s greatest post-war speeches to cheering crowds in 1949. Opening the First Session of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe on the same day, Churchill said:

“Great is the danger which now threatens us, but great also is our strength and there is no reason for us not to succeed in achieving our goal and laying the foundation of a United Europe."

“A Europe whose moral design will win the respect and acknowledgement of all humanity, and whose physical strength will be such that no person will dare to disturb it as it marches peacefully towards the future.”

How far we have travelled. The real patriots are those who fight to maintain this legacy and dream of a united continent brought together by shared values, not the cowardly Conservatives and Brexit Party MEPs who would rather run away or shout at our neighbours from the sidelines.

Luisa Porritt is MEP for London and the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs

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