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Luisa Porritt MEP reflects on the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe, EU reform, and raising Nazanin’s plight

PUBLISHED: 17:00 03 January 2020

Camden's local economy would be hit by Brexit, said Cllr Porritt. Picture: Harry Taylor

Camden's local economy would be hit by Brexit, said Cllr Porritt. Picture: Harry Taylor

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“It’s like a break-up. I feel okay but perhaps I’m not and I’m just going around telling people ‘I’m fine’ but it won’t hit me until we leave. ”

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Picture: Harry TaylorThe European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Picture: Harry Taylor

It's time to face the future. One where Britain will be out of the EU, and London MEP Luisa Porritt and her staff will be out of jobs. Our voice at the table of democracy in Brussels and Strasbourg will be muted.

While the Brits aren't out the door yet, the effects of the imminent exit are being felt. One of Luisa's parliamentary assistants, Ellen Griffiths, has had her attempt to learn French rebuffed by the European Parliament as Britain is leaving. Meanwhile plans to improve the London MEP's office have been scaled back. When the Ham&High came to call, there was a scramble by her other parliamentary assistant, David Breyer, to find enough chairs.

You would expect there to be an air of resignation. To an extent there is, but there's a growing hope amongst the particularly Europhile MEPs that Britain might rejoin in the future, riding back over the hill when all hope is lost.

Luisa said: "I've had colleagues come up and say - and this is also my view too - that it's inevitable the UK will pivot back to the EU at some stage in the future.

"It's difficult to say when that will be, but we don't have to lose everything overnight."

She says that Britain has to look at the type of country it wants to be, and faces being caught between Russia, China and the US.

"The UK has to now ask some fundamental questions about its future. Which countries and which blocs and parts of the world it wants to align itself with. I think our values are liberal and we believe in democracy and we should work with our closest friends and neighbours to uphold those values and the rise of autocracy in the rest of the world."

The Belsize councillor will be in the parliament's chamber when the vote takes place in January on whether to approve Boris Johnson's withdrawal agreement. She scoffs at the idea of backing it.

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"I'm absolutely not voting for anything Boris Johnson puts forward on Brexit, I do not trust him," she adds.

There's hope that the period of self reflection on the European Union's side may help pave the way. Similar hopes are held about the idea that Britain could re-join without having to adopt the Euro.

There is due to be a Conference on the Future of Europe this year, which Luisa believes may lead the bloc to look at why one of its biggest member states voted to leave in the first place, and what reforms may be needed.

"The whole purpose of it is to engage EU citizens in a debate about how Europe can work more effectively for them," she said. "That is the missing piece of the puzzle. We are not the only member state where the broader population is divorced from what happens, in Brussels and Strasbourg.

"One of my key recommendations would be for more power to the parliament to initiate legislation. We are elected directly by the population. That would help and might also help improve the engagement of citizens. They might be more interested in what their MEPs do. We are all facing, fundamentally the same battles against populism and nationalism. With us it's been through the medium of Brexit."

The colleagues with whom Luisa agrees that Britain may rejoin a reformed EU may also carry out another flame for her after she leaves. She hopes that those relationships with fellow MEPs means they will also bring up the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Before the Christmas break, the 32-year-old's work meant the West Hampstead mum was named in a resolution condemning Iran for its suppression of protests in the country.

She said: "I think getting Nazanin on a resolution supported by broadly the whole parliament was my proudest achievement. I can say I did that directly for a constituent of mine in a very short space of time.

"I think that the act of doing that, even though it is not going to free her tomorrow it is about keeping that issue and her plight on the agenda."

She describes her time as an MEP as the "most incredible experience" of life, adding: "It's been an incredible rollercoaster from start to finish. We've had this cloud of uncertainty hanging over our heads. I've taken every day as it comes and tried to make the most of it, however much time I have got to have here, that's how I intend to see it through."

With that, she's off. Dinner with fellow MEPs from the Renew group in Europe awaits. If Britain does rejoin, perhaps there could be cause for a reunion in years to come.


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