Needless to say I am being asked a lot about what happens to my job as a Member of the European Parliament now that the UK has voted to leave the EU.
As I’ve only been an MEP for two years I have to admit to it all being most frustrating. Just as I’ve reached the point of being conversant with the workings of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council, at the point at which I’ve developed good working relations with fellow MEPs from across the EU and across the political divides and, most importantly, when I’ve finally reached the point at which I feel I am able to start delivering for the North East the rug has been pulled from under my feet.
It is still not entirely clear but it looks as if we will remain MEPs until the point at which the UK formally leaves the EU, which most people seem to think will be in around two years time. At a practical level, continuing to paying the mortgage and looking for a new job, this is a reasonable length of time but politically it has the potential to be the ‘kiss of death’ to the UK’s 71 MEPs. Already there are indications that we are less likely to get major pieces of work to do in the parliament, a blow to our democratic mandate. Will our colleagues from across the EU, both politicians and officials, consider it worth their time investing in relations with UK MEPs who will soon be gone? To me the UK’s decision to leave has made us overnight lesser beings, diminished, ‘dead men walking’.
Hopefully you will be pleased to hear that Jude Kirton-Darling, my fellow NE Labour MEP, and I have decided not to go ‘gentle into that good night’, but rather we are going to engage in a bit of ‘rage against the dying of the light’. We both believe the best thing we can now do for the NE is to ensure the region is not forgotten about, either by central government or the EU, as the UK negotiates its exit deal. We have already seen Scotland, Wales and Cornwall move quickly to demand assurances and support as the UK begins the tortuous process of extracting itself from over 40 years of joint EU working.
To this end we will organise an extensive consultation during the autumn with the private, public and voluntary sectors across the region, the urban and the rural. Ultimately we intend to present our findings to the UK’s exit negotiators, both the politicians and the government officials, and to their EU equivalents.
The consultation process will begin with an open survey to gauge opinion, see: www.northeastlabour.eu/plan, followed by a series of meetings and discussions with interest groups, including business leaders, universities, cultural leaders, faith groups, charities, the unions and rural bodies.
The consultation will seek to find out exactly how important access to the Single Market is for the NE, could we survive outside of it? It will explore the question of how EU regional and social funding could be replaced from other sources. There will also be a focus on how we now best protect the rights of workers and consumers outside of the EU and whether environmental standards should be maintained at their current level. Given my membership of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the parliament we will also have a focus on what should replace the Common Agriculture Policy.
The consultation will also consider how well represented the NE is within the political structure of the United Kingdom and whether we need a greater emphasis on reforming our own institutions, once we no longer have a European tier of governance.
The decision to leave the EU brings an unprecedented array of challenges for our region, but possibly new opportunities, too. ‘Shy bairns get nowt’, so we don’t intend to hold back. Given the NE is currently a net beneficiary from the EU we have more to lose than most from a bad exit deal so collectively we need to ensure we are in good voice so as to be heard loudly and clearly in both London and Brussels.