Brexit bonanza from the heart of European politics
By Viktor Berg, in Strasbourg
With the Brexit drama back for another series, Valley News ventured into the European Parliament in Strasbourg to meet MEPs representing the South West and for a closer look into what goes on inside the political fortress.
In what feels like a city on its own, with a population required to wear suits at all times, MEPs from far and wide appeared from every angle, chatting to each other like in any standard office. But in this office, getting from one end to the other could be considered a half marathon through a maze, with frequent obstacles in the form of security barriers with officers having to give you the green light.
Listening in on a plenary sitting on October 22, one could understand why it might be difficult getting a point across, as MEPs mostly have one minute to make a speech. In Nigel Farage’s case, he said he hoped this would be the last time in 20 years he spoke in the EU Parliament, but that he had a feeling he would be back in November (to be continued…)
Shortly afterwards, we sat down in one of the many bars serving both coffee and beer, among other things, and managed to get hold of Mr Farage as he came out of the adjacent smoking lounge, nicknamed the “gas chambers” by some MEPs (a frequent sight around the building).
“We are in the most important years in who is Britain going to be: a province of a supreme power or an independent state?” Mr Farage told Valley News.
Unsurprisingly, the general feeling among MEPs seems to be that no-one knows what’s going to happen and “we will have to wait and see” might the most popular phrase inside the “Death Star” (labelled as such by Brexit Party MEP John Longworth).
Moving on – it was time for lunch in the MEP restaurant. Bangers and mash had no place on the menu as the buffet had everything a hungry politician could ask for: cold meats, seafood, cheese, soup, freshly-baked bread – the list goes on.
A sit-down with Lib Dems MEPs Caroline Voaden and Martin Horwood revealed Brexit fatigue has hit Britain and Europe. Martin said: “As somebody pointed out, people are giving more consideration to the Wild Animals and Circuses Act, which now affects all of a couple of dozens of animals, than to the withdrawal agreement which affects the lives of 60 million people.
“I think there is – just as in Britain – enormous frustration about the twists and turns this process keeps on taking, and the uncertainty it imposes on everybody,” he added.
The Brexit Party’s Ann Widdecombe put it bluntly: “I honestly think, now, that nobody knows what’s going to happen. Everything changes every five minutes; most people have given up playing scenarios and making predictions because they are endless.”
As the Brexit saga continues, one can only wonder where it will end.
Caroline Voaden said: “The one good thing that could come out of Brexit is a change to the voting system. If it has showed anything at all, it has shown is that this two-party system is not sophisticated enough to cope with an issue like Brexit.
“My hope is that whatever happens next, the people will say this electoral system is not fit for purpose and we have to move forward to a more mature democratic system.”
Caroline added: If Nigel Farage’s party puts up a candidate in every seat in the country, which they are proposing, then it will be an absolute gift for us because what they will do is split the pro-Brexit vote.
“I think this is the one chance to defeat a Johnson-Farage right-wing coalition. If we let them in, then we’ve got five more years of this and goodness knows what they could do.”
In response to the claim that The Brexit Party would steal votes from the Conservatives, Ann Widdecombe said: “We have made it very clear indeed that if Boris Johnson goes for a clean break then we will help him. We will try to help him get the good majority and we will stand in elected seats.”
“But if he doesn’t do that, if he is determined to poise this bad deal on us then we will fight him. And as far as we’re concerned, the major thing is Britain’s future, it is not the success or otherwise of any individual party,” she said.