A day in the life of Luisa Porritt MEP as she returns to EU parliament after Tory election win
PUBLISHED: 14:05 23 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:57 24 December 2019
It’s a Monday morning and MEPs are returning to Strasbourg for the first time since Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won the general election. Britain is leaving the European Union.
Luisa Porritt was one of the MEPs on the Eurostar to Paris that morning. The Liberal Democrats, who put stopping Brexit at the heart of their campaign, came out down one seat on the previous election. With Mr Johnson's victory, for them too, the cause is over.
The mood is downbeat. The London MEP and Belsize councillor was up all night on BBC World Service reacting to her party's fate, including the moment her party's leader Jo Swinson lost her East Dumbartonshire seat. She says it was quite an emotional experience, especially as she knows Ms Swinson personally.
In the last visit to Strasbourg before Christmas it's typical that there's been some form of travel chaos. French workers are striking over public sector pensions, so halfway into the journey Luisa and I split up as she's able to get an earlier train. "This is the life of an MEP," Luisa tells me.
When we eventually arrive at Luisa's spartan office in the European Parliament, looking out over the River Ill, there's a feeling that everyone is putting on a brave face. There are the same conversations between MEPs, as though a dying relative has passed away after a long illness. There are reassuring smiles and comforting words, but Luisa's Lib Dem colleagues, who form part of Renew Europe and their staff will be out of a job on January 31.
Yet Luisa is glad for the opportunity to return to Strasbourg, however raw the feelings are.
She said: "It was important that we came here with our heads held high to show our faces, and that we share those values. We put up a good fight but accept that we lost this particular battle.
"I feared coming back and it feeling like the door was already shut, but I've never experienced such warmth and compassion. What I've seen from colleagues is them trying to give us as many opportunities as possible before I leave."
One of those who will be out of a job is one half of Luisa's parliamentary assistants, David Breyer. He left his role as an official in the German Foreign Ministry in Brussels to work for her because of the excitement and opportunity to make a difference to Britain's fate inside the EU. His colleague Ellen Griffiths used to work for Tim Farron in Westminster, and has been looking through a flood of emails from voters after the election, asking whether Luisa will back the idea of "associate membership" for British citizens if they pay a fee. Yet Mr Johnson has already made it clear he's unlikely to support it in any deal. People could be grasping at straws.
After a day of disrupted travel, the London MEP and her team decamp to an Italian restaurant. Talk quickly turns to the election result. It's clear people are grieving, but nobody seemed particularly surprised by Boris Johnson's victory, only the scale of his majority.
Luisa said: "I knew it was coming. I could feel it all slipping away in the final days and weeks of the campaign. The last two weeks in particular felt like a downward spiral. My base case was Mr Johnson would get a slim majority towards the end of the campaign, I didn't expect such a big one."
She says her party's policy of revoking Article 50 didn't go down well with voters, adding that it was a challenge on the doorstep, even in remain-voting London.
She said: "With the benefit of hindsight it's not smart to have a policy that's difficult to communicate in a snap general election campaign.
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"People think it's just Jo Swinson's policy but the membership voted for it. Revoke is the natural conclusion of the people's vote if it is won."
She also thought the Labour Party's poor campaign hindered her own party's fortunes and said her party needs to look at how it allocated resources.
Meanwhile David speaks with bemusement, saying he feels people are voting with their emotions rather than facts.
He said: "My hope was always that the emotional argument would end and there would an economic reason meaning they wouldn't be able to afford it. I thought Boris would get a majority, but not as big. I thought there was more movement and there was more critical thinking about what is going on.
"Mostly I feel really sorry for almost 50 per cent of the population and have always thought from an outside view that this is how the voting system is, and what it does."
Tuesday starts in dramatic fashion, when we meet outside her regular hotel in the south of the city centre. In her words, "it's all kicking off". A party colleague has got in touch and asked her to draft and lead on a report on the crackdown on protests in Iran, in the next hour and a half.
She wants to get a mention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in to continue highlighting her plight. However the scope of the item is narrow, and it's going to be tight. Especially with time constraints.
She says she has tried to meet with the Iranian ambassador to the EU, but there has been a changeover in representative, and they can't do so until the New Year. There's just a month until Britain leaves anyway.
Another hiccup arises when she meets Ellen and David in her office nestled in a warren of corridors in the Winston Churchill building. It turns out that Luisa doesn't have any allocated time to actually announce the report.
The battle commences to negotiate some time from another speaker or Renew Europe's deputy secretary general, Anders Rasmussen.
Eventually Ellen's work pays off and Luisa gets a minute and a half. More negotiations later on in the day yield success, as Nazanin's name is mentioned in the motion.
At the same time, the 32-year-old is preparing with David, who works with her on economic affairs, on a report on "fair taxation in a digitalised and globalised economy," an attempt to crack down on tax avoidance. Yet both she and David believe it won't pass and there will be some votes against from members of Renew. Countries such as Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and others with lower tax bases it is thought won't go for it.
It's then followed by a briefing from Ellen on EU-African relations for a working group meeting. Luisa scribbles down some amendments on it. "My brother says I've got the writing of a serial killer," she jokes.
There's just time for her to vote on the new European Ombudsman - despite bemusement by the members over the voting system that makes the chamber seem more like Camden Council's than the hotbed of European democracy - have a bite to eat and practise the Lib Dems' role in Renew Europe's Christmas performance - even if we're not allowed to see a rehearsal of the artistic performance. One piece of EU business that won't be fully transparent for the public.
Read the second and final part in our series from Strasbourg next week, as the MEP reflects on her time in parliament and talks about why she thinks Britain will "pivot back" to the EU.
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