This is the text of the speech delivered to members from across the North West by Wajid Khan MEP at Labour regional conference. November 2018
Comrades, thank you for joining us this morning.
After many years of your European team coming here to tell you about our work, this may well be our last report. I’m sure I speak for all of us on this panel when I extend our deepest thanks and respect to the MEPs who have served you before us. And to the regional staff who welcome us every year, and make sure we have this platform to share our work with you. All I can say is that I am very, very sad that the last report comes on our watch.
But maybe it isn’t … here’s to a People’s Vote!
-pause for claps-
This is an apt venue for our European report. Blackpool North and Cleveleys is a seat we have to win, if we’re going to make Jeremy Corbyn the Prime Minister of a government for the many, not the few.
And it’s a Leave-voting constituency.
Comrades, I am a proud Remainer. I have marched for a People’s Vote. But it is a sobering thought, and a challenge to us all, the task we face.
Not only Blackpool - 6 of our 9 target seats in the North West voted Leave in the referendum. Whatever our personal stances on Europe as Labour members, these are the very constituencies that we have to reach out to and connect with, not least on the thorny issue of Brexit.
I’m confident that we will win here, by the way. I’m proud to say that one of my own staff, Chris Webb, is the candidate.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys is in good hands.
Much of the work that Labour does in Europe goes under the radar. Perhaps that was a reason for people here in Blackpool, and in constituencies like it, seeing no value in staying.
But whether it’s seen or not, and whether or not our part in it is coming to an end, the work of European Parliament goes on.
This year, Theresa has been focusing heavily on ending energy poverty. As an EU Energy Ambassador, she has been influencing policy-makers across Europe at conferences in Milan, Vienna, Dublin and Amsterdam. She has been a leading figure in persuading ministers that tackling energy poverty and climate change is not only one of the great moral challenges of our time, but also makes good economic sense. Her work has contributed to ambitious new targets of 32% of our energy coming from renewables, and Theresa was instrumental in the campaign for a ‘Just Transition’ to support workers and communities in the move from fossil fuel to renewable energy.
Theresa has been one of our leads on the Copyright Directive, fighting for copyright laws that guarantee fair remuneration for artists and performers. She has also been working on putting an end to single-use plastics, calling for better access to public transport for disabled people, fighting for LGBTIQ+ rights, and pushing for social media platforms to take responsibility for the “fake news” that undermines political campaigns across the world.
Julie has been sitting on the European Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee, and in that capacity she’s worked on two important pieces of legislation. She influenced the Copyright Directive, pushing hard for fair remuneration of workers while protecting internet freedom. In her work on the Audio-Visual and Media Services Directive, Julie campaigned on protection of children, accessibility, and media literacy.
Julie also sits on the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee. She went on Pride marches across Europe, taking the campaign for LGBTIQ+ rights to European countries that continue the fight for equality. Within Parliament, she led our S&D group’s work on the Committee’s annual report on human rights and democracy. She has championed the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the fight to tackle the discrimination against widows.
Julie has been active in the campaign against Brexit, including her work with the ‘Left Against Brexit’ campaign and the Great Northern Stop Brexit conference. In particular, she has produced insightful reports on the impact Brexit will have on the culture, education and sports sectors.
For my part, I have served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Human Rights Committee, and on the delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia. I have focused my work on speaking out on the international human rights issues that matter most to diverse communities in the North West: the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar; atrocities in Indian-controlled Kashmir; human rights abuses by the US government; the Saudi’s campaign of terror against the citizens of Yemen; and the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinian civilians. I have been proud to visit the refugee camps in Bangladesh, and to have spoken on these issues at the United Nations.
Aside from our work in Brussels, all three of us have worked hard to provide a bridge between members and the EU. Between us we’ve taken well over 300 school students, constituents and Labour members to Brussels and Strasbourg.
Our work has given a platform to the North West in Europe: Julie has worked closely with Dyslexia Institute UK, who have subsequently launched a European Charter, and UCLan Creative Communities Group, who have been nominated for a lifelong learning award. I recently led a delegation from Lancashire to explore our historical links with Aachen in Germany, and we hope to forge closer cultural and economic ties rooted in our shared industrial past.
Whatever direction the rest of the UK is headed in, I think it’s clear that the North West remains a progressive, outward-looking community.
We’ve visited dozens of constituencies across the region, discussing Brexit and the EU more broadly, and of course joining local canvassing sessions. Whatever your stance on Brexit, I trust you’ll miss the extra pair of feet your Europe team provide at election time!
Sadly, it’s not just Labour that has MEPs in Brussels - for some reason the Tories get to send some too. Their behaviour there is severely underreported, which is a huge pity, because time and time again it shows them for what they truly are.
While Viktor Orbán oppresses media and academia in Hungary, attacks the judiciary and outlaws religions, the European Parliament voted to sanction Hungary until it reversed its anti-democratic actions.
The Tories voted against this. The Tories gave their backing to a man who is, as we speak, transforming a European country into a despotic regime.
Why? To gain support in their Brexit negotiations.
With the Saudi-led military coalition killing innocent Yemenis, the European Parliament passed a motion for an EU arms embargo.
The Tories voted against this. Twice.
After the horrifying case of Jamal Khashoggi came to light, another motion was passed in the Parliament.
The Tories failed to support it. They refused to condemn the brutal, state-sanctioned torture and murder of journalist.
As I said, I really wish this stuff got more coverage in British press - because it’s in Europe that the Tories feel free to bare their teeth: backing despots, walking away from the plight of children in war zones, and looking the other way when their allies assassinate civilians.
Serving as a bridge between North West members and Brussels is one of the most important parts of our jobs as MEPs. It’s only by understanding how the EU works, and especially our complex relationship with the EU, that the extent of the Tory government’s shambolic negotiations are laid bare.
And my word, are they shambolic.
Two years of arguing amongst themselves, putting their own back-biting before the interests of this country. A transition deadline that one minute seems to recede over the horizon, and the next apparently won’t be needed at all.
Business confidence shattered.
British citizens abroad uncertain about their future.
Major industries threatening to pull out of the UK.
And in this land of milk and honey that they’re leading us into, not a single trade deal with a single country outside the EU.
But really, who needs international trade deals and business confidence anyway? We’ve got a commemorative Brexit 50p coin ready to go!
Specifically, the way they commemorate Brexit is by magically being worth only 40p on March 29th.
Despite all this mess, the Prime Minister had the cheek to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of putting politics before the national interest. Well, we’ve got a clear message for her from Labour in Europe:
Stop putting the regressive ideologies and personal career ambitions of Boris Johnson and his friends before the national interest.
And if you won’t, or if your government is so fragile that you can’t, step aside for a government that will act for the British people.
Comrades: whatever faction wins the embarrassing scrap they’re having, there can be no winners from Brexit as long as the Tories are in government.
Because on workers’ rights, on environmental standards, on climate change, on diplomatic and security cooperation: the Tories have always seen the EU protections we have fought for as a ceiling, not a floor.
The Tories don’t want the basic workers’ protections we enjoy as members of the EU.
They don’t want to have to comply with environmental regulations, with food safety standards, with human rights protections.
Unfettered by the EU, they would happily sign away our protections in a lopsided trade deal with Donald Trump that would leave TTIP in the dust.
Whatever your feelings about Brexit, there’s one thing nobody in this room could have any doubt about: when it comes to negotiating a fair future for this country, for those people outside this building who voted to leave, it can only be Labour.
A Labour government that will put the interests of our millions of small businesses before a principled objection to a customs union.
A Labour government that won’t treat the loss of our EU membership as the starting gun for a race to the bottom on standards and rights.
A Labour Party that will lay out a future for this country based on our internationalist, socialist values.
A future for the many, not the few.