Catherine Stihler: Sad withdrawal from EU peace process

Catherine Stihler has seen major reform during her time in Brussels. Picture: Fred Marvaux
Catherine Stihler has seen major reform during her time in Brussels. Picture: Fred Marvaux
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It’s easy to be angry. As we enter 2019 and the final countdown to Brexit, I share the sense of deep frustration felt by many.

Anger with a Tory Prime Minister who is dragging the UK towards a cliff edge; with the hardline Brexiteers who don’t care about the impact on workers; and with the leader of my own party who is prepared to facilitate a reckless withdrawal from the EU.

That Brexit will deliver economic hardship for our country is beyond doubt. It is constitutional vandalism of the very worst kind, which will hit the poorest the hardest.

Shame on those who are unwilling to stand up for the communities in the firing line. Your actions will not be forgotten.

But there is another emotion as well: sadness.

By the end of March, we are destined to walk away from the most important peace process the modern world has ever seen.

It will decimate opportunity for the next generation, and send a signal to the world that we no longer believe in cooperation and togetherness, and instead we stand for isolationism and nationalism.

I believe in solidarity and the breaking down of borders. That’s why I oppose both Scottish independence and Brexit. As the words on the back of my Labour membership card state – “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone” – words that Jeremy Corbyn should reflect upon.

I am Scottish, British and European, and Brexit is not going to take that away from me.

But it is going to take away the opportunities that come with being part of the European Union.

Over 20 years as an MEP, I have witnessed the EU expand and reform to bring nations closer together in the interests of co-operation and peace.

The expansion that delivered membership to countries like Poland and Romania was a success that brought huge dividends for those nations as well as our own.

The economic contribution of EU migrants to Britain is beyond question. That so many workers, who pay their taxes and help run our vital services, such as the NHS, are already leaving our shores is a tragedy.

They have not only contributed to our economy, but also to our society. They are our neighbours, our work colleagues and our friends. If you are having trouble finding a job, getting a house, or seeing your doctor, it’s not caused by your Polish next door neighbours, it’s caused by the Tories’ austerity ideology.

That my own party also wants to end freedom of movement is deeply distressing for me.

We should be shouting from the rooftops about the unions of people and nations, and how we can use their collective power for the common good. That’s at the very heart of what it means – or what it should mean – to be Labour.

But I worry too about the impact of Brexit on British citizens who have enjoyed the freedom to travel across the EU unhindered. The youngsters who have been offered the opportunity to fall in love with European cities, European culture and European people.

The Brits who have made their homes in France, Spain and Ireland, often to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, or the students who have taken advantage of the Erasmus programme to broaden their horizons.

As a young woman myself, aged just 25, in 1999 I became the UK’s youngest MEP.

I have witnessed major EU reforms that have transformed our lives, such as lower credit card fees, clearer labelling on food products and the abolition of mobile phone roaming charges.

I have used my voice as a representative of voters in Scotland to help build a fairer society.

So yes, I am angry that we are putting further development at risk. But, when the clock strikes 11pm on 29 March, it will largely be sadness that I feel.

Sadness for those who will miss out on the opportunities we have today; sadness for my friends across Europe; and sadness that we are led by politicians who are willing to tear apart the bonds of solidarity that mean so much to so many people.

Catherine Stihler is Labour MEP for Scotland