Our first meeting of 2019 was a joint meeting with the GMB Brussels Branch to talk about British workers post-Brexit, and, more broadly, workers’ rights in the EU. We were lucky to be joined by Dave Clements, who sits on the GMB Brexit working group for the southern region, and Andy Newman, branch secretary of Wiltshire and Swindon GMB and Labour parliamentary candidate for Chippenham. The speakers shared their experience of working with the ETUC on workers’ rights, as well as their views on the political situation in the UK, including how voters feel towards a public vote. For Brussels Labour, it was heartening to hear GMB’s backing for a final say on the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly as we creep ever closer to the cliff-edge of March 29th. Jude Kirton-Darling, MEP for the North East of England, also addressed the meeting. Before becoming an MEP, Jude was a Confederal Secretary of the ETUC, and she is currently working to strengthen links between trade unions and the European Parliamentary Labour Party. Jude gave us insight into the work she’s been doing, and offered her own thoughts about a People’s Vote, the Withdrawal Agreement, and where we go from here. After hearing from the speakers, we held a question and answer session. Many members were eager to hear more about the prospect of a People’s Vote, but we also discussed other topics. This included the impact of the UK leaving the EU on different policies; in some areas, Brexit may well be seen as an opportunity for the EU to push forward in areas where UK reluctance has hindered progress. We also considered what other, more palatable deals could be an option to the UK, and in doing so were reminded that even if the ‘Norway option’ was supported by the UK, it would not necessarily be supported by Norway. The conclusion from this, of course, is that the deal we have now is the best that we can get.
Brussels Labour members joined 700,000 people in London to march for a People’s Vote to Stop Brexit on 20 October.
The third anti-Brexit march this year, it was by far the most well-attended as the Brexit process entered the final few months. As the negotiations for Britain’s departure from the EU on 29 March 2019 began to reach a climax, attention was also turning to the “Meaningful Vote” in the House of Commons where MPs will have to decide whether or not to ratify the final Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU. The march aimed to put pressure on MPs to legislate to allow the British people to have their say on the final deal when it finally comes before Parliament.
The biggest demonstration in London since 2003, Brussels Labour members joined up with the Labour ‘bloc’ to show the opposition to Brexit which also exists in the Labour movement. The total number of marchers far exceeded the expectations of the organisers and the police, and it took our group almost five hours to walk from our starting point in Park Lane to Trafalgar Square – by that time the rally in Parliament Square was long over, even if we’d been able to walk down Westminster to get there. Never have so many European flags been seen in London, as people not only protested against Brexit but also marched to show their support for the European project and appreciation of the benefits of working together with our European neighbours through the European Union.
The Withdrawal Agreement has now reached Parliament, and all eyes will be on the Commons on 11 December when the Meaningful Vote finally takes place. We will only know then if the march, and the different campaigns to stop Brexit have had an effect, and if a “People’s Vote” on the deal with an option to remain will be allowed to take place. However, whatever happens, it is clear that in one of the most Eurosceptic EU member states, a large pro-European movement has been borne, which will fight to stay as close as possible to the EU, regardless of the outcome of the vote on 11 December.
Two Brussels Labour executive members running in the local elections; Jo Wood in the City of Brussels, and Keir Fitch in Etterbeek. Though neither won a seat, they both ran great campaigns and we would like to thank everyone who showed up to support them.
We were pleased to see PS win in the City of Brussels with Philippe Close as mayor However, for the rest of Brussels and Belgium we need to ensure that the PS and SP.A stay strong, particularly in the approach to the European elections. On the left, the greens made gains, whilst the far-right, though far from a successful night, did win the commune of Ninove.
On 27th September, the city of Brussels honoured the memory of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, by naming a square beside the Ancienne Belgique music
venue she often visited in the years she lived here, as Place Jo Cox, in a formal ceremony.
We heard from different speakers during the ceremony, including Jeremy Corbyn, and Jo Cox’s sister, who gave an incredibly moving speech to those gathered.
Also speaking was Richard Corbett, leader of UK Labour MEPs, which was fitting as Jo Cox spent various campaigns for ActionAid UK, an international development charity, focusing primarily on fighting poverty and tax avoidance by multi-national companies.
He said to those gathered, “All of us were very touched when we heard of the decision of the City of Brussels to name this square after Jo Cox. The gesture will live on for many years, reminding us of the values she stood for, and of her time in Brussels, in the European Parliament. Many of us remember how enthusiastic and lively she was, and the commitment she gave to everything she did. It was a privilege to work in the vicinity of her, let alone closely with her.
I think for many of us, not just in our political family, but of course, especially in our political family, our hearts were torn apart when we heard the terrible news that day, just a few days before we voted in that terrible referendum in which she was campaigning to remain part of our European Union.
But we must take courage. We must live up to the values that she stood for, live up to the principles that she lived by. We must fight on for the politics that we believe in, which will make our society a better place. We must create a better world, where people all take to their hearts the words of Jo that are so widely remembered, “we have more in common than that which divides us.”
Imogen Tyreman, Vice-Chair Brussels Labour
I was lucky enough to be one of two Brussels Labour members who were elected by Labour International as delegates to this year’s Labour Party Conference.
While Brexit was a big issue at conference last year, it was nothing compared to this year, held just six months before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. Although Conference heard a range of motions, the Brexit one undoubtedly caused a stir. From a delegate meeting to agree on the exact wording of a motion for a public vote on Brexit after so many CLPs submitted motions concerning this, to Keir Starmer telling Conference that he believed Remain should be an option in any public vote, it was clear that nobody was happy with the costly, chaotic Brexit Theresa May is trying to force upon the country.
The Brussels Labour event at Conference, Where Next for Labour in Europe, was well attended, and it was an opportunity to hear from a range of speakers we do not always have the chance to see speak. Alongside Richard Corbett and Clare Moody, we heard from Rupa Huq, Brendan Howlin and Olivia Bailey, and I was able to talk to members of the Labour party from the UK about what Brussels Labour does.
Walking to the conference venue, I was greeted by various anti-Brexit groups formed by people of varying positions on the political compass. As I flicked through the conference guide, I realized it was going to be quite a task to attend all the Brexit fringe events, not least because there were multiple ones happening at the same time. I think this really showed the urgency Labour party members feel regarding Brexit.
Although it was difficult to do so, I was pleased I managed to find time to attend some fringe eventsgreat opportunity to reignite passion for certain topics and discover and get involved in great campaigns and initiatives. I heard Luciana Berger MP and others speak about mental health and local governments, as well as Stella Creasy and others talk about violence against women activists.
Overall, conference was a great opportunity and I would thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone that hasn’t been and encourage those who have to go again. When I went this year, I really expected it to be the last conference before Brexit, but with Labour passing a motion calling for a general election or a people’s vote, and with the events of the past few weeks, I’m not so sure.
Just in time for the Council summit when the UK was supposed to have found a solution on the Irish border, Brussels Labour heard from its very own Paul Hagan. We heard not just about the impact of Brexit on the border in Ireland, both in relation to goods and the Common Travel Area, but also on how it has affected the Republic of Ireland. It was fascinating to hear the process, and a good reminder that politicians still aren’t talking about this as much as they should be.The meeting came just as revelations came out about possible collusion between DUP, the Leave campaign and Cambridge Analytica.
At the meeting we also passed a motion reaffirming Labour’s six tests for a Brexit deal and the decision of part conference in 2016 to gain approval for the final settlement through Parliament, and potentially through a general election or referendum. The motion also calls for our branch delegates to party conference to vote in line with these goals.
Members of Brussels Labour were part of the over 100,000 strong rally in London demanding a People’s Vote. Rather than asking to redo the referendum, the People’s Vote UK campaign focuses on making sure the public get a final say on the Brexit deal.
When the UK voted in 2016, all that was on the table was in or out. Yet there was no discussion of what voting out would look like. Some did so to fund the NHS, a promise broken a day after the campaign. Some believed we would stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, which the UK government has now said we will leave.
All these decisions will have a huge impact on the UK for decades to come. It’s time the people got a real say on their future, once the terms are known. This is why our members joined the demonstration to call for a People’s Vote.
Brussels Labour members travelled across to London in May to campaign for Labour in the local elections.
We went to both Islington and to Wandsworth, and are pleased to announce that in Islington, Labour won its biggest share of the vote since 1974, with 61% of all votes cast in the borough.
Although we didn’t see the same level of success in Wandsworth, which was Conservative controlled before and remains so, Labour did increase the number of seats it has on the council by 7.
John Howarth became an MEP in June last year, after the snap general election saw the departure of Anneliese Dodds to Westminster. In our April meeting, we heard about John’s experiences so far from an MEP, including the strange feeling of coming to Brussels knowing your time is limited. Nevertheless, John has been incredibly active since taking up his post, making the most of the opportunity of being in the European Parliament before we leave. We’re also lucky that he’s another MEP who is not afraid to call out the pitfalls of Brexit. As we creep ever closer to March 2019, it’s crucial that people like him are speaking out, and Brussels Labour looks forward to hearing more from him
As a former Bristol West constituent, I was excited to hear that Thangam Debbonaire MP was coming to speak at Brussels Labour. Having campaigned with her on her hugely successful 2017 General Election campaign, I was anticipating a meeting full of the joy and verve that Thangam brings to everything she does, and I was certainly not disappointed. With typical vigour, Thangam ranged from issue to issue, taking time to speak frankly and expertly about issues as varied as the 2017 General Election, drug policies in Bristol, interaction between MPs and the European Parliament, her experience of being an MP since being elected in 2015, and the importance of representing your constituents in everything that you do. The challenges presented by Brexit were discussed at length, and questions from concerned Brussels Labour members were answered with candour. It was really heartening to hear Thangam’s thoughts on the specialist knowledge of Labour members here in Brussels, which she argued should be made as available as possible to those in Westminster, as we all work together to mitigate the harsher impacts of Brexit. She also spoke on the importance of maintaining the UK’s relationship with the EU, and the impact that Brexit will have on her constituency and around the UK, particularly when looking at young people. It is always an honour when politicians from Westminster take time to visit the Brussels branch, and particularly at this time it is good to know that Labour members across Europe are not being forgotten by MPs. Thank you so much for coming Thangam, it was a truly memorable evening.