Archive for the ‘European Parliament election 2019’ Category

Labour must become ‘unequivocal’ party of Remain, says David Miliband

The U.K. Labour Party must change course to become the “unequivocal party of a People’s Vote” and advocate for remaining in the EU, said former Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Speaking to POLITICO, Miliband said the party’s current strategy on Brexit is failing badly — it achieved just 14 percent of the vote in the European Parliament election last month.

Miliband, who is from the moderate wing of the party and has been a critic of current leader Jeremy Corbyn, said Theresa May’s Tory government is “dysfunctional and useless” and so Labour’s failure was all the more stark.

“Clearly this isn’t a matter of whether or not you believe that Labour should appeal to Leavers and Remainers. Of course it should,” said Miliband. “The question is how do you do so? You don’t do so by sitting on the fence. That’s evidently the case.”

The former foreign secretary, who since 2013 has been based in New York as head of the International Rescue Committee, an NGO that helps refugees and displaced people, countered the assertion from Brexiteers that a second referendum would be undemocratic.

“We don’t know which Boris Johnson is going to come to lead the country” — David Milliband

“The Brexit that people are now being offered is so different to the Brexit that was promised at the time of the referendum that it would be undemocratic not to have a confirmatory ballot,” he said.

Miliband said he understands why a group of Labour MPs defected from Labour to form Change UK. “They were obviously provoked beyond all endurance and one shouldn’t question their personal integrity … I mean lots of people are having their party loyalties tested to the limit,” he said.

He said he had been in touch with the group of MPs before they broke away from Labour. “Yes of course I talked to them. I didn’t talk about their party plans,” he said, “There are lots of people who are deeply concerned about, not just the political strategy of the Labour Party but where it is being taken.”

Asked if former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell should have been expelled from the party for saying publicly that he had backed the Liberal Democrats at the European election, Miliband said: “Of course not. I mean he’s sort of Labour to his … bone marrow. So [it was] absurd to expel him … I think it’s made the leadership look utterly foolish.”

But Miliband added that he had remains a party member and had voted Labour in the European election. “The truth is that the Brexit nightmare has to be worked through by the existing party system. I’ve always felt that,” he said.

On the Tory leadership contest, he said it is “extraordinary” that Boris Johnson is leading the race to be prime minister given his record as foreign secretary.

“The truth is we don’t know which Boris Johnson is going to come to lead the country,” said Miliband, “And that’s a problem because someone who has taken so many different positions and so many different personas obviously engenders a high degree of mistrust.”

Miliband was in Brussels to speak at the European Development Days conference on Tuesday. He argued that with the U.S. stepping back from international affairs, only the EU has the power to keep the Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed by the U.N. five years ago, on track.

“They are off track in fragile and conflict states. Those are places where more people are living in extreme poverty so I think that it is really important to have focus and to have clarity … the EU is the body that has the greatest opportunity to do this,” he said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

The MEPs in Brexit limbo

To the long list of people who wish the U.K. hadn’t participated in the European Parliament election, add 27 names.

In last month’s pan-European ballot, 751 MEPs were elected — plus a further 27 who will only take up their seats when (or if) Brexit finally happens.

“It’s a weird situation,” said Linea Søgaard-Lidell, who won a seat for the liberal Venstre party in Denmark, becoming her country’s only Brexit bonus MEP. “No one knows what’s going to happen. I might be on standby for five years, or a few months.”

If Brexit had happened as planned at the end of March, the new European Parliament would already have said goodbye to its 73 British MEPs. After Brexit, the plan is to redistribute 27 of the British seats across 14 member countries the EU deemed to be underrepresented. The rest will be held in reserve for any future enlargement of the bloc.

But the last-minute extension of the U.K.’s membership until the end of October meant a change in the arithmetic. Instead of a reduction in the overall number of MEPs and the redistribution of British seats, the Parliament has stayed the same size as it was in the last term. That means a new brigade of MEPs-elect are now stuck, unable to take their seats until the Brits finally leave.

“I really hope Brexit never happens. Ireland is affected by Brexit more than any other member state” — Barry Andrews, Irish MEP in limbo

Søgaard-Lidell had been planning to move to Brussels with her boyfriend if she was elected. “It has a big effect not only on professional life but also my personal life,” she said.

Other reservists are incensed the EU allowed this situation to occur. “The Europe that has put us in this grotesque situation, that’s the Europe we must end,” said Sandro Gozi, a former government minister in Italy who was elected on the list of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche in France.

Even though he is anti-Brexit, Gozi blames the European Council for agreeing to give the U.K. more time to pass the Brexit deal. “I would be very happy if the U.K. decided to remain, or rejoin, but [it would be] extremely wrong to postpone again after October 31,” he said.

This means Gozi and other anti-Brexit MEPs-in-limbo are in an odd position, holding out for the very thing they oppose in order to take up their seats.

Sandro Gozi, an Italian who was elected on the list of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche in France | Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews, who won a seat in Dublin, would seemingly prefer never to take up his seat in Brussels if it meant the U.K. stayed in the EU.

“I really hope Brexit never happens,” he said. “Ireland is affected by Brexit more than any other member state. It’s obviously a strange and unprecedented position to be elected [into].”

Søgaard-Lidell said she would be “disappointed for my own situation” but that “it would be for the better” if the Brits stayed in the EU. And Gozi said: “I would be very happy as a European, even if I had to wait a bit longer to join the European Parliament, if they withdrew Article 50.”

However, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in France, was calmer about the situation, perhaps because he believes Brexit has to happen. “I am for respecting what the people have decided,” he said.

“Brexit or no Brexit … There’s no obsession, no stress, no problems,” he said. “I will keep being actively involved in politics.”

Both Gozi and Andrews stressed that legally, they have been elected in their countries. “I do have a mandate for the people of Dublin,” Andrews said.

But a European Parliament press officer reiterated that these 27 cold-storage MEPs have “no special status” until Brexit happens. In other words, in the EU’s view, despite having won seats in the EU election, they are mere members of the public until the U.K. has left.

Gozi has dubbed those in his position “Picard MEPs,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the frozen-food supermarket chain. “I’m a totally frozen fish, I place faith in the British summer to melt the ice.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

Labour holds Brexit Party at bay in crucial by-election

PETERBOROUGH, England — The Labour Party secured victory in a key by-election Friday, depriving Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party of what would have been its first House of Commons seat.

Labour candidate Lisa Forbes came in 683 votes ahead of the Brexit Party’s Mike Greene in the pro-Brexit constituency of Peterborough.

Conservative Party candidate Paul Bristow came in third in the early hours of Friday morning — the day Prime Minister Theresa May will formally resign as Tory leader.

Farage arrived at the count amid predictions his party could win its first Westminster seat in Peterborough, which has swung between the Labour and Conservative parties for generations, just weeks after the Brexit Party came first in the U.K.’s European parliamentary election. But a strong effort by Labour activists to get out their vote saw Forbes elected the new MP instead, and Farage was nowhere to be found.

In her acceptance speech, Forbes said a rejection of the Brexit Party by the city’s voters showed the “politics of division” would not win.

Farage spoke with the BBC’s Today program after the result Friday, and said despite his party’s loss, “What you’ve seen from this result last night is that British politics has fundamentally changed, it’s no longer just two parties contesting.”

Asked whether he’d consider doing a deal with the Conservative Party in the aftermath of the by-election, Farage said: “Well they may have to come and do a deal with us.”

Polling expert John Curtice noted that having secured just 31 percent of the ballots, Forbes had set a record for the lowest share of the vote captured by a winning candidate in a by-election, which he said was confirmation the U.K. is in a “different political world” where no one party can necessarily dominate any particular election. He added that the Brexit Party was still a “significantly disruptive force.”

The smaller Liberal Democrat and Green parties came in fourth and fifth, with 12 percent and 3 percent of the vote respectively. Curtice said their results demonstrated that in the “squeeze of first past-the-post election,” those who did not look likely to win were at risk of seeing their vote falling away.

The Peterborough by-election was triggered after the previous Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, who won the seat from the Tories in 2017, was sacked after she was convicted for perverting the course of justice over a speeding offense.

In her acceptance speech, Forbes said a rejection of the Brexit Party by the city’s voters showed the “politics of division” would not win.

Forbes joins a Parliamentary Labour Party riven with divisions over its Brexit policy. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure from senior figures in his shadow Cabinet, including his deputy Tom Watson and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, to give his unambiguous support to a second EU referendum.

Forbes told the BBC on Friday she had campaigned to honor the result of the referendum and thought Labour was a way off from backing a fresh vote on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union.

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