After the European elections, we have to stop Brexit and resist climate change
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
First published on Bright Green.
Just two months ago, the UK was legally bound to leave the European Union and subsequently withdraw our MEPs from the European Parliament. Following the European elections, which we unexpectedly took part in, more Green MEPs were elected than ever before. Expanding our group of UK Greens from 3 to 7 MEPs represents a huge opportunity to tackle the far-right in Europe and to act on the climate emergency.
How did we get here?
When the UK shocked everyone by voting to Leave (including committed Leave campaigners), David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister and Theresa May took on the role. Upon becoming Prime Minister, she triggered Article 50, officially notifying the EU of our intention to withdraw from the bloc, without a plan of how to do so in an orderly fashion. She then called a snap General Election in the hope she would get a strong Tory mandate for a softer Brexit. Instead, her party lost their majority, delivered chaos and uncertainty, and ate into the time they should have been using to get cross-party consensus on how to do Brexit.
The constant negotiations, constant resignations from cabinet and constant shifts in the parliamentary arithmetic meant the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK Government and the European Union took forever to arrive, and when it did, it suffered an historic defeat in the House of Commons.
As you would hope any Prime Minister would – Theresa May applied for an extension to Article 50 and was granted one. She had said at the Despatch Box over 50 times that the UK is leaving the European Union on 29 March. That was the legal deadline for exit before she applied for the extension.
This year’s battle for Europe
Fast forward to now and we’re still in, having breached two Brexit deadlines already and we’ve taken part in the European Elections, electing new UK MEPs to the European Parliament. According to the mainstream media, the big stories from the election on 23 May were that the Brexit Party completely displaced the votes for UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour did awfully and the pro-remain vote was still significant, despite the two main parties support for different forms of Brexit.
Throughout the campaign, since immediately after the referendum result in 2016, the Green Party has been prioritising a People’s Vote, stopping Brexit and radical action to tackle the climate emergency. Greens have been emphatically in favour of a close relationship with our European neighbours but have also been making the case for reforms in the EU.
It has become a mainstream view that the people who voted leave often did so because they felt disenfranchised from the political and economic system and wanted to give the establishment and the status quo a kicking. In doing so, they handed a narrow victory to a far-right elite which wants a hard Brexit in order to erode workers and environmental rights and to weaken regulation of corporations.
The Green Party and the growing climate movement
Spring 2019 saw Extinction Rebellion shut down Waterloo Bridge and other transport arteries in London. Activists filled police cells and their spokespeople made their way onto the mainstream media and public consciousness. Green politicians were soon on the scene and getting themselves arrested too. The message was clear – UK politics and parliament in particular is completely stuck thinking about Brexit, but the climate emergency and sixth great extinction event can’t wait, we need action now.
Extinction Rebellion’s call for action came hot off the heels of Bristol Green Party councillor Carla Denyer’s successful campaign to get her city council to declare a climate emergency, the first ever. Her success enabled Extinction Rebellion to build massively on her momentum and got the UK Parliament to also declare a climate emergency.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ surprise victory in the over her establishment Democrat opponent in the USA saw the congresswoman elected and propelled into the media spotlight. Her inspiring message of hope and action led to a series of specific policy proposals including the Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal takes some of its inspiration from the New Deal in the United States which was a response by government fiscal stimulus to the Great Depression. It says we need to use government spending to dramatically expand renewable energy generation capacity, improve the energy efficiency of buildings and infrastructure, and create millions of high-quality jobs.
The Green New Deal’s new popularity stands on the shoulders of ecological economists and Green activists. Alexandra Phillips, the new Green Party MEP for the South East of England made clear that a Europe-wide Green New Deal is one of her first priorities.
Sir David Attenborough’s BBC documentary on climate change, Greta Thunberg’s international school strikers for climate action movement, Extinction Rebellion and AOC’s call for a Green New Deal provided the perfect storm for a good Green Party result at the ballot box on 23 May.
Where do we go from here?
The grown group of Green MEPs, renewed public concerns about the environment, a popular policy programme (the Green New Deal) and an expanded racist far-right presents a broad spectrum of opportunities and challenges for radical eco-socialists. We have a very real opportunity to build on the excellent work done by Green party MEPs like Molly Scott Cato on sustainable finance, and Jean Lambert on welcoming migrants. Greens are uniquely placed to raise the alarm on climate breakdown and on the rise of fascism because we can see the interconnectedness of the issues and we have the policies to tackle both.
Now we have the most UK Greens ever elected to the European Parliament, and a significantly strengthened pan-European Greens group, it’s even more vital that we stop Brexit in order to work effectively and internationally to tackle the climate emergency. It’s the worst possible time to cut off our formal connection to our closest neighbour, in the midst of a climate crisis which requires unprecedented international cooperation.