Luisa Porritt: New London Lib Dem MEP on ‘imposter syndrome’, what makes her angry and her first month in the job

Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt wears a Bollocks to Brexit t-shirt. Photograph: Twitter.

Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt wears a Bollocks to Brexit t-shirt. Photograph: Twitter. - Credit: Archant

It’s June 17. A baking hot Brussels afternoon. For Camden councillor Luisa Porritt, it’s like the first day of school all over again.

Cllr Luisa Porritt, who is standing to become a Lib Dem MEP for London. Picture: Liberal Democrats

Cllr Luisa Porritt, who is standing to become a Lib Dem MEP for London. Picture: Liberal Democrats - Credit: Archant

This is the first time Luisa has visited the Belgian capital since becoming London's third Liberal Democrat MEP in May's elections, and she's meeting fellow members of the Renew Europe group. Looking around the room, the pang of imposter syndrome strikes for the first time.

"I suddenly realise I was in a room where I am a peer with someone like Guy Verhofstadt," she said.

"It's very surreal, going and finding your name and your place. You're continually meeting new people in your own group. That feeling doesn't go away."

It's been a whirlwind 18-months for the 32-year-old. In that time she gone from being an activist, to a councillor and now an MEP. She's now deputy leader of the party's group in Brussels.

When asked if she would have believed it if somebody had put the scenario to her a year-and-a-half ago, she laughs.

"I didn't join the Lib Dems to become a politician," she said. "I just joined because of Brexit and what I saw happening to the country. It was soul destroying. Everything snowballed from there."

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Luisa also had a similar feeling when introducing herself as a substitute on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

During a lunch of the members of Renew Europe, a group the Lib Dems are part of, she said she felt slightly out of place.

"Virtually every person who introduced themselves had been a top diplomat or minister in their home country.

"My story was 'Luisa Porritt, joined a political party three years ago, elected as a councillor last year and now an MEP.' That was quite surreal."

To her it's a sign of "how politics has gone wrong,"

"There should be a wide of a range of people going into politics as possible. It is no accident that we have an Etonian Prime Minister trying to take us out of the European Union at any cost."

She is dividing her time between Strasbourg, Brussels and Belsize Park. The typical day begins with a 6am alarm, before attending breakfast meetings and getting down to parliamentary business. She doesn't often return home until close to, or just after midnight.

"It's the most chaotic when we're in Strasbourg, as that's where the plenary sessions and votes take place, and you often end up rushing around between them," she said.

Since being elected in May, Luisa, who grew up in Belsize Park, has become a familiar voice on the airwaves, TV screens and a go-to for news articles about the EU. She spoke to the Ham&High a day before taking part in Radio 4's Any Questions, alongside Nimco Ali, Shaun Bailey and Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

The day before our interview, she was told by a Tory MEP on BBC Radio Five Live that those worried about Brexit should "believe more" in Britain. It's no shock to hear it infuriates her.

"It makes me so angry. I'm feeling angrier by the day as each day a new story comes out about the cost of a no-deal Brexit.

"People's lives are being put on the line. So to say we need to be more confident will not address those questions and challenges we're facing as a country. It really scares and upsets me that Boris Johnson and others are invoking a wartime spirit.

"Why on earth would we want to go back to that time?"

Yet the personal cost will be felt by Luisa as well. Not only are the livelihoods of her staff dependent on Britain staying in the EU, but her personal friendships are impacted by it as well.

"I have already had one of my colleagues from D66 [Dutch democrats] who sits next to me say, 'I will cry if you leave'. It does hit you. It's so sad to constantly dwell on that prospect."

Since becoming a councillor for Belsize last year, Luisa has become a considered voice on the opposition benches. She had a People's Vote motion passed in Camden Council last year, and the move even sparked a minor rebellion in the Tory back benches as Gio Spinella, former party leader, broke the whip to back it.

She says remaining in the EU is the number one issue constituents are writing to her about. With the Conservative Party's grip on parliament slipping, it's something that still looks possible as the clock tickets down.

Yet when she's asked if she's optimistic for the years ahead, she pauses.

"I don't think Boris Johnson's government will last long. I fear a Brexit on purpose or by mistake, and the effects of that. We'll find a lot more angry people if any version of it does go ahead. People are right to feel angry as there's been a chronic under-investment in our public services and there aren't enough opportunities outside of London. That's what my optimism depends on. The best way to solve it is to put it back to the people."