David Campbell Bannerman is a Conservative MEP for the Eastern Region.
As memories of Christmas turkey passes, other British MEPs may still feel a certain empathy to these noble birds as we enter this final full year in the role of Member of the European Parliament – as I do, especially as someone who campaigned vigorously for the benefits of Christmas despite putting myself firmly on the menu.
It is unusual to know the exact hour or the exact day of one’s redundancy 15 months out: in this case, it is 11pm UK time on 29th March 2019. I have no complaints – my own nightmare would have been a Remain win leading to me having to watch the continued, and more enthusiastic, dismemberment of my country within the emerging EU Superstate – paying far more into the EU budget for the EU Army they said was fiction (we now have an EU Permanent Structured Military HQ); observing the harmonisation of economies through a single Eurozone Finance Minister, and fearing the impact of common taxes (Macron’s and Juncker’s shared vision is for a 33 per cent corporation tax), plus a single pensions and social security system.
The second most powerful man in Germany and former President of my Parliament, Martin Schultz, recently tweeted demands for a treaty to create a United States of Europe, and for any country not signing up to this to be forced to leave the EU. We got out just in time.
But given the momentous and enlightened decision of the British people to back Brexit, what is the point of British MEPs now? I get some people thinking we have already left despite our exertions!
Actually, there’s still a great deal of point:
- We are full EU members until that March 2019 date and the EU’s legislative sausage machine is still pumping out much bad and damaging legislation – so our day job needs to continue to amend, improve or occasionally stop it.
Also, if Britain does take on new EU laws during the implementation period then we can help shape them before we leave. Often such legislation has a long gestation period and it’s an elongated process.
We also continue to have our constituency responsibilities, such as in my East of England constituency, and have a continued responsibility to deliver against the agenda on which I was elected – in my case, making the case for Brexit and helping to deliver a suitable alternative deal.
- We UK MEPs all personally have a vote on the deal – and 73 MEPs may well be crucial to passing it. Canada’s CETA trade deal was nearly lost by huge divisions amongst left-wing parties.
There will be a vote on any Withdrawal Agreement, which Theresa May has done so well to deliver on, as well as a trade deal itself. I assume there will also be a Strategic Partnership Agreement to be passed, too, in the manner of Canada – to cover non-trade aspects such as justice, counter terrorism and foreign affairs cooperation. Maybe a host, too, of other agreements: a specific investment agreement, for example (which by excluding from the trade deal, would speed up the whole process, since it would only require EU agreement, not that of 36 national parliaments).
This is where the European Parliament is vital: as with all trade deals, the EU Commission negotiates the deals under guidelines issued by the EU Council, with no official role by Parliament other than oversight and media grandstanding. But once any deal is agreed by Commission and Council then the final yes or no comes down to the Parliament. Its role in these circumstances will be vital.
- We can assist build bridges with the fellow MEPs from all the other 27 countries and other political groups necessary to pass the trade deal and the other related agreements. I myself am on the Parliament’s Trade Committee Brexit Monitoring Group, though there are official mutterings about throwing me off it as a Brit!
Every British MEP should be in the job of helping deliver the best deal for Britain regardless of their stance on Brexit in the Referendum. My own group, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) has MEPs with colleagues in Government: President Duda of Poland used to sit behind me as an MEP, for example. There is much more of a ‘revolving door’ in European politics between national government and the European Parliament than in the UK where MEPs have often been barred, so our presence here is most helpful to the British Government’s search for a deal.
Frankly, I fear that the Parliament’s spokesman on Brexit, the unapologetic federalist from the federal state of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, would just love to recommend a vote against the trade deal, as De Gaulle rejoiced in twice vetoing Britain’s application to join. A Grande Gesture par excellence!
Nor should not forget the internal politics of this: Both Michel Barnier and Verhofstadt are alleged to be wanting the prize of head of the Commission after Mr Juncker departs, and there will be a lot of hard man posturing to contend with unrelated to the deal itself.
But we can approach the groups and independent MEPs directly to make the case that a good deal – or set of deals – works best for everybody, and is the sensible outcome. I am interested not in a zero-sum game, but in ensuring we leave on the best possible terms for all. We want a friendly, positive, cooperative ongoing relationship for the future.
- We can offer our special insights and knowledge working in the European Parliament to assist this process on all sides. For example, I have used nine years of experience working on EU trade deals on the Parliament’s Trade Committee to propose a model for an EU/UK trade deal entitled ‘SuperCanada’ – based on Canada’s CETA deal and Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) but bigger, wider and deeper, and with far more on services.
I met Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Foreign Minister, regarding CETA, and was delighted to have hosted David Davis at my ECR Group-sponsored ‘Deal or No Deal: What are the Options?’ Conference. My colleagues all offer experience and expertise in a range of subjects and areas, that are all relevant and helpful to this process. All this I hope could help smooth a UK-EU trade deal solution.
So British MEPs still have much to contribute and offer in these last 15 months, before moving on to new pastures – wherever these shall be.