Labour MEPs have warned that Theresa May must urgently build bridges with her fellow EU leaders, and listen less to the hardline ‘no deal’ Brexiters, after European Council President Donald Tusk told the European Parliament today that Europe will not be “intimidated” by threats, and that failure to reach a deal would hurt Britain more than the EU.
Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, said:
“The signs are there, from Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, and now Donald Tusk: threats and intimidation from the UK government are building hostility amongst our European partners and are making it harder to build the alliances we need to get a good deal.
“The prime minister lacks allies and ideas, seemingly alone and isolated in the EU, apparently more comfortable in the presence of Donald Trump than Donald Tusk. If this attitude persists, we risk crashing out of the European Union with either a dire deal or no deal at all.
“Theresa May needs to stop being led down the path favoured by Nigel Farage and the ‘no deal’ masochists on her front and back benches, and start building her relationships with her fellow EU leaders and negotiating partners. If she doesn’t, we will end up with a truly disastrous WTO Brexit, with high tariffs, job losses and economic chaos.”
Ahead of a debate today in the European Parliament on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, Labour MEPs have urged the British government to give them peace of mind by upholding their rights to remain in the UK after Brexit. The European Parliament debate takes place at the same time as the House of Lords debates amendments on citizens’ rights in the Brexit bill.
Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:
“It is really quite shocking that the government has failed to offer guarantees to the three million EU citizens currently resident in the UK, and is using them and the 1.2 million British citizens living in the rest of the European Union as pawns in the Brexit negotiations.
“EU citizens who have been in the UK for years are fearful of what the future may hold for them in the country they have made their home – people who have worked and studied here, contributed to society, contributed to the economy, and started families.
“Were Theresa May to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain, it would not only be the right thing to do, but would almost certainly be reciprocated by other EU countries, giving peace of mind to the many British citizens facing similar circumstances in the rest of the EU.
“The prime minister recently said EU citizens living in the UK make a “vital contribution to our society and economy”, and that without their contribution Britain would be “poorer” and public services “weaker”. She needs to act on these words without delay.”
“In the coming months the LIBE, petitions and employment committees will hold a joint hearing to investigate the cases that have been brought to the European Parliament. It is important that we continue to draw attention to the increasing number of cases from concerned EU citizens and their rights ahead of the Brexit negotiations.
“We will strengthen our calls for guarantees to protect the rights of the close to three million EU citizens in the UK and the one and a half million UK citizens living in other EU countries. We, as MEPs, will equally represent their interests and continue to lead calls to ensure that these people are not penalised for a decision that will affect them, but which many of them had no part in making.”
As Theresa May meets Donald Trump today, with a UK-US trade deal on the agenda, Glenis Willmott, Labour’s leader in the European Parliament, highlights what we should look out for.
EU reaction to visit: Just a week on from Trump’s inauguration, Britain’s prime minister will become the first foreign leader to visit the White House. The rest of Europe is watching closely as she tugs her forelock to the fake-tanned, fake news president, whose first foreign visitor after the election was Nigel Farage.
And, if Europe’s leaders perceive her to be too much like Farage and Michael Gove in subservience and tendency to selfies, or too eager to please the most divisive incoming president in history, then it will be seen as a contradiction to the warm words about building a constructive future relationship with the EU. It would not be the best base from which to start Brexit talks, which according to May’s own timetable, must begin in just two months’ time.
May’s negotiating style and diplomatic skills: With an eye towards the Brexit negotiations, her abilities as a dealmaker and defender of the British national interest will be under the microscope as she pits her wits against the “Dealmaker-in-Chief”. Just how skilled a diplomat is she? And what kind of “special relationship” will she have?
While we could debate for hours about exactly what Britain voted for on 23 June last year, I’m pretty sure when people heard Leave campaigners talk about taking back control, they didn’t intend to give it straight back again to become subservient to the US in the hope of rescuing our economy from the disastrous Tory plans for Brexit.
The reality of a US-UK trade deal: Leavers talked-up the prospect of advantageous bilateral trade deals being one of the main benefits of Brexit, claiming they would be better than the EU’s trade pacts. However, as was pointed out during the referendum, and repeatedly since, deals on terms that are good for Britain will be hard to achieve and, with the Tories in charge, could be very bad for our social standards and public services.
When challenged, May has refused to say the NHS is off the table in trade talks. Far from Brexit resulting in an extra £350m a week for the NHS, leaving the EU could result in its privatisation by the back door.
May’s character: Admittedly, it would have been a bit much to expect the prime minister to slip some Amnesty International “stop torture” pens into her gift basket for Trump alongside the quaichand food hamper, but it’s not too much to demand of her that she confronts Trump over his despicable remarks on torture, both in private and publicly. She may well do so. But EU partners, when weighing up whether Britain is a serious partner worth a decent Brexit deal, will look to see whether she is willing to defend our nearest neighbours and biggest trading partners.
May’s ability to be a candid straight-shooter, whose moral compass points the right way, could go down well in Europe’s capitals, if she can show she will speak truth to power and – despite Brexit talks – defend our European alliances.
May’s response to Trump’s world vision: We’ve had the toadying to Vladimir Putin, the undermining of Nato, the attacks on the EU – in which he wished its break-up – and the isolationist, protectionist “America First” rhetoric of the inauguration. All of which sounds completely at odds with the prime minister’s “global vision” of Brexit Britain, outlined during last week’s Lancaster House speech.
It is yet another issue on which Europe will be looking for reassurance. Since the end of the Cold War, there has never been a worse time to cut ourselves off from our European and global partners and isolate ourselves – now more than ever we need to maintain defence cooperation and intelligence sharing after Brexit, not just with the EU but with all our allies, in Nato, the UN and beyond.
Throughout her visit the prime minister must remember, it is not just Britain that is watching her closely, it is much of the rest of the world.
Labour MEPs have been re-elected as chairs of the European Parliament civil liberties and international development committees this week, at the midpoint of the current parliamentary term, when all positions are up for election.
Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:
“Labour MEPs will continue to work hard for our constituents for as long as we are members of the European Union, and we will scrutinise the Brexit process across all European Parliament committees, each of which will have an input.
“The European Parliament will play a crucial role in the Brexit negotiations, and MEPs will have a vote on the final deal, so it is vital that we stay involved and continue to show leadership and work with colleagues from across the parliament.”
Claude Moraes MEP, chair of the European Parliament civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, said:
“I am very pleased to have been re-elected as chair of the civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, dealing with issues as wide-ranging as protecting citizens’ fundamental rights, responding to the refugee crisis and tackling cross-border crime and terrorism.
“These are major areas on which Britain must continue to have a crucial relationship with our European partners even after leaving the EU – these issues cannot be tackled in isolation and will continue to require close cooperation.”
Linda McAvan MEP, chair of the European Parliament development committee, said:
“I am delighted to have been re-elected as the chair of the international development committee, and will work to ensure we play a full part in tackling poverty across the world and help developing countries make progress in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Britain has traditionally played a leading role on international development in Europe, and we must ensure we continue to do so, and that the good work we have done carries on into the future.”
Labour MEPs have also been elected as vice-chairs of the committees on the internal market, budgetary control, women’s rights, and security and defence.