When Britain goes to the polls (again) on 23 May, we do so in the shadow of three years of the chaos and uncertainty of the government’s botched Brexit plan. The way out of the many problems we face is to work within the European Union, to transform our society for people, not profit, in the UK and across the continent.
It’s been a painful time for the UK of late. Not only have we had the national embarrassment of a government unable to govern, but we’ve also seen EU nationals leave the NHS in droves, businesses large and small suffer from the uncertainty and Parliament failing to pass any meaningful laws to address the multiple crises we’re facing in Britain – from street homelessness to precarious work.
For the Green Party stopping Brexit is a no-brainer at this stage – and as the first party to call for a People’s Vote, we will enter the European elections as the leading and largest remain party for the UK in the European Parliament, already boasting three MEPs and hoping to gain more. Voting for Green MEPs sends a very clear message that you want to stay in the EU – and that you believe that the British public should be given a chance to vote on Brexit now the full facts have emerged.
But for me, a pro-European, stopping Brexit can only be a first step in a long, and desperately needed process to transform the UK and the continent as a whole. That’s why I’m committing to use every single day as an MEP to push forward a radical cross-continental programme that specifically aims to tackle the very real social and economic issues which led us to Brexit, and risks the social fabric in other countries too.
For a start that means being honest about migration – and never flinching from speaking up for freedom of movement. Unlike politicians like Chuka Umunna or Vince Cable the Green Party have never capitulated to the toxic rhetoric on free movement and called for it to be abolished. We believe that it is one of the greatest gifts afforded to us by being members of the EU – and we’re not afraid to say that. But we don’t believe that signing up to freedom of movement is enough. That’s why I also pledge to bringing urgent reform to ‘Fortress Europe’ and the EU’s toxic border policy which has contributed to thousands of people, mainly from North Africa, drowning in the Mediterranean. We don’t beat xenophobia by pandering to it, we make life better for migrants by changing the debate and reforming the law.
A toxic political culture of migration wasn’t the only driver of Brexit. It also came after years of underinvestment, privatisation and economic shock therapy which tore apart our welfare state and left our villages, towns and cities suffering. Chronic low pay plagues the country, with 23% of all employees earning less than the Living Wage (2018). A report by Green MEP Keith Taylor shows that food bank use in the South East of England, the region I hope to represent in Brussels, has soared by 15% in just a year. For some people the Brexit vote was a chance to tell the political establishment that ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to poverty and low pay.
Fixing the low pay problem in the UK is possible – and I want to work with MEPs from across the continent to look into introducing a continent-wide Living Wage which stops companies from chasing low pay across Europe, and gives everyone living in the EU a decent standard of living. We must also look to use European laws to strengthen workers’ rights – and use the might of the EU to increase paid holiday, sick pay and other guarantees.
But we shouldn’t stop there. With the climate crisis worsening – and people already suffering its effects – I plan to use my very first weeks in the European Parliament to bring together a cross-party, cross-continent group of representatives to begin creating a Europe-wide Green New Deal. Such a project, championed so successfully by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the USA, wouldn’t just build infrastructure like low-carbon transport and industries, it would also create high quality, well paid jobs in every corner of the European Union and vastly reduce inequality. It would rapidly help us do what we must and drop our emissions in line with what the science tells us - and crucially, it would also allow Europe to begin to repay the climate debt it owes the world.
These projects may sound ambitious, but for me there’s no other way to solve the multiple crises we face. The European Union will succeed if those working within it are bold enough to transform it to work better for us, and to revitalise its institutions to be servants of the people of our continent rather the corporations, who saunter through the halls of power, unaccountable to all.
Alex Phillips is the Green Party lead candidate for the South East for the European Elections