Tom Greeves posted this excellent piece on Friday summarising his observations after the ConHome school outing to Brussels earlier this week.
I echo virtually everything that he wrote, but felt I would add my own two penn'orth (or should that be euro'orth?!) to give you my take on what we found. At the bottom of my piece below I have also posted a video of me and Tom which was filmed during our visit by blogger, Ellee Seymour.
I have visited the European Parliament in Brussels on five or six occasions over the last decade, and each time I have returned to Britain equally, if not more, eurosceptic than before I went – and this time was no exception. Despite physically being there, it feels such a remote institution, especially when you gaze down at the seats in the Parliament chamber and recall that each MEP is representing literally millions of people – of whom so very few have ever been in touch with them, let alone got to meet them face to face.
That said, for as long as we remain members of the European Union, the institutions in Brussels cannot be ignored, since – as the regular refrain of us fervent eurosceptics goes – the majority of laws and regulations governing so many aspects of our lives do in fact originate there, whether we like it or not.
During our couple of days there, I was struck by the number of lobbyist friends from London I bumped into – unaware that they were due to be in Brussels – but the stark fact is that increasingly it is politicians and bureaucrats in the European institutions who are the ones to lobby on a wide variety of issues.
And it wasn't only lobbyists with whom I had chance encounters. On Tuesday alone I met no fewer than three Conservative MPs who were over for meetings with their counterparts in Europe, which I took as a very encouraging sign that there is increasingly good co-operation between the shadow teams at Westminster and Brussels.
Singing from the same hymn sheet at home and abroad is vital, and on that front I was delighted to observe an air of positivity from the majority of Tory MEPs to whom I spoke about the formation of a new Centre-Right grouping in the Parliament, as the UK Conservative delegation exits the federalist European Peoples' Party after June's European elections.
I have previously paid tribute to the work which William Hague and Mark Francois have been doing on this, but mention should also be made of Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, who has been leading the negotiations at the Brussels end.
There is every reason to be optimistic and positive about the formation of a new group which will ensure that British Conservatives no longer remain in that unhappy marriage with parties taking an integrationist line on the EU.
And now that the Conservatives have bitten the bullet and officially informed the EPP of their intention to leave in June, word is that some hitherto uncourted MEPs from far-flung parts of Europe – who wondered if the Conservatives would ever leave, after previous false starts – have even been curiously asking about the new group, hinting that they might be interested in joining too.
Tom and I much enjoyed this very useful visit to Brussels and on behalf of us both I'd like to put on record here our thanks to all the Conservative MEPs who took the time to meet us and to their staff for their assistance in arranging our schedule and helping us to find our way around!
What MEPs actually do is a mystery to many and I hope that, building on relationships forged and fostered during this visit, ConservativeHome will now be better placed to ensure readers are a little better informed about what they get up to in Brussels and Strasbourg.
And here's that video!