It’s not easy to know what to say just so soon after our country took the momentous decision to leave the European Union.
We – like the rest of the country – are still reeling. Many people are experiencing the broad range of emotions that come with grief, and no one more than us as MEPs.
Green Party supporters voted solidly for Remain
The first thing to say is a huge thank you to everyone who was active with GreenerIN, or in other Remain campaigns. The Green Party fought a positive, honest campaign for a Remain vote. We had a clear, united position, and many local parties made a great effort to gear up and reach out into their communities with the GreenerIN message so soon after the May local elections. Our campaign raised awareness of the important rights and freedoms that have been won and are guaranteed at EU level; it highlighted the critical EU protections for nature, our seas and rivers, and clean air; it remembered the founding principles of the EU and the peace and solidarity they have given recent generations; and, in sad contrast to others, we celebrated the free movement of people and its benefits.
Our supporters voted solidly for Remain, and we can be proud of this.
But now we have to deal with the new reality of the – albeit narrow – victory for Leave.
As Members of the European Parliament, and therefore the close colleagues of Greens from across Europe, it does feel like a very bad break-up.
We have been heartened since the referendum by the welcome we’ve received from fellow parliamentarians and friends on our return to the European Parliament. In Brussels, we can confirm that the #hugabrit campaign has gained momentum since the result! European colleagues are accepting the UK’s decision largely in good grace. There is a lot we can to learn from them about how to be good Europeans.
We have been deeply impressed how people – at home and elsewhere in Europe – are now applying themselves to the task at hand.
Now, we urgently need to unite our divided communities
In Britain, the most urgent thing is to unite our divided communities. With the young pitted against the old; Scotland pitted against England and Wales; London, Manchester, Brighton and other cities pitted against the rest of England – there’s real division that needs to be healed. The referendum has fed forces that decent people had spent decades trying to diminish. Greens will be coming together with progressives from trade unions, campaign organisations and grassroots groups to offer hope and to resist the spread of racism, hate speech, inequality and alienation.
Please do what you can. Wear a safety pin as Caroline Lucas did in Parliament to show solidarity with the UK’s foreign-born population, organise or join a ‘migrants welcome’ solidarity event, volunteer, or do whatever you can to demonstrate Greens’ support for a diverse, tolerant, welcoming society.
What stands out from the referendum campaign is the anger felt by so many people. This anger has been directed at the EU, aided and abetted by political and media elites who were prepared to propagate false promises and even downright lies.
Greens know the EU is far from perfect and we openly called for reform, but still, the deserved target of this anger is much closer to home. The real focus ought to be Westminster, where our national governments have unnecessarily and destructively forced austerity on communities, cut funding for public services and put pressure on housing, health services and schools. Our own system is broken, and we must not let those responsible off the hook.
We cannot afford to allow the Conservatives to continue their destruction. And we cannot rely on Labour, who fought an inadequate referendum campaign at national level and have emerged looking weak and deeply divided, to stop them.
The Leave campaigns did not present a manifesto, or even a coherent description, of how they envisaged our new relationship with Europe. And now there are Leavers brazenly back-pedalling on ‘promises’ like funding for the NHS and an end to free movement. With 48 per cent of people voting to stay in, with no agreement on the Leave side on what our new relationship with the EU should look like, and with no precedents for an orderly exit to guide us on how to negotiate new terms – there are no clear next steps or direction. There hasn’t even been a proper public debate.
Never have we more needed calm leadership to be shown by politicians. Yet, instead, both the Tories and Labour have engaged in civil wars. At such a key moment for this country, the political establishment is utterly failing. We cannot wait for this government to sort itself out, which is why the Green Party is calling for an early general election.
We urgently need progressive forces to work together in that election to ensure that the regressive forces given space in the referendum do not gain in power.
We’re calling on all sides to come together to fix our democracy here in Britain – starting with electoral reform. Reform of our local and general elections must be a key priority for Greens in the post-referendum landscape. We have moved into the era of multi-party politics. Now is our opportunity to create a system that truly represents the people.
Electoral reform must be a key priority post-referendum
We are also calling for progressives to unite to maintain the existing progressive legislation on employment, human rights, and the environment that has been a benefit of our EU membership. We will be standing up to say ‘migrants welcome’ and to protect the rights of EU national living in this country and those of Brits abroad.
But whilst we address the urgent divisions in our society, the political vacuum, and the immediate post-referendum threats to our way of life – let’s also remember that this referendum was not only about us. The result has the potential to indirectly impact people across Europe.
As European Greens, we urge the EU institutions to learn lessons from our referendum and to become more people- centred, greener, and more inclusive. The EU as a whole needs bold new policies to transform people’s lives for the better, all across Europe. Europe’s politicians need to demonstrate they are listening to people – frustration at the lack of decent jobs, opposition to TTIP, dismay at the appalling handling of the refugee crisis, desire for more climate action, and calls to clamp down on tax dodging, to name a few. We must make it easier for EU members to make the Remain case in future.
The EU needs to transform people’s lives for the better, all across Europe
Whatever happens next – and that is very hard to predict at the moment – we are incredibly proud to serve as Green MEPs and to work alongside like-minded people across our continent on our shared challenges. We will always stay outward- looking and will look for ways to cooperate across borders to build a fairer, greener, better future for everyone.