Pro-British tributes as UK MEPs sit for last time

‘Europe is not about where you come from; it’s about where you want to go’ - Spanish MEP Esteban González Pons.

17 January 2020
By Oliver Rowland

MEPs gave messages of tribute to Britain and the British as the UK’s MEPs sat for the last-ever plenary session in Strasbourg this week.

In a week in which the MEPs also passed, 610 to 29 (68 absentions), a resolution supporting rights of the British in the EU and EU citizens in Britain, including a call for continuing free movement for Britons, several MEPs gave passionate pro-British speeches.

They included German Green MEP Terry Reintke who is planning to set up a ‘British friendship group’ in the parliament.

It comes as the British MEPs are clearing out their Strasbourg offices for the last time.

In her speech, which she said would probably be the hardest to make of her career, Ms Reintke paid tribute in particular, to pro-EU movements in the UK, such as those who marched calling for the Brexit deal to be put back to the people in a final referendum.

She said: “I ran to be an MEP to fight for more rights for citizens in the European Union. And now millions of European citizens are going to lose rights.”

However said she would end with two positive messages, firstly to say many MEPs would continue working “tirelessly” to keep defending rights of EU citizens in the UK.

“The second one goes out to all the people in the UK who are heartbroken right now. And I know that even with this movement that is unique in European history, it has not been possible to put this decision back to the people.

“But these demonstrations and all the signs and all the tweets and all your votes there were not in vain. You built something absolutely beautiful over the past years and this is the largest pro-European citizens’ movement that we have seen, and we will build on that.

"And trust me, one day I will see British MEPs being re-elected to this Chamber.”

Centre-right Spanish MEP Esteban González Pons said: “British people must know that despite Brexit, despite all the things that happened during these last four years, they will always be welcome in the EU because Europe is not about where you come from; it’s about where you want to go. Countries can be separated; families cannot.

“Today, there is more than one million Britons living in other EU countries – lots of them in my own country, in Spain. I want to address them directly today.

"Many of you have built your lives here, in Europe. Many of you have married here. Some of you have children that were born here. We are neighbours. Most of all we are friends. We are relatives. There is something that we cannot and will not forget.

“That is why I want to tell you: no matter what happens after January 31, you will always belong to Europe, and as long as it’s your wish to stay with us, the EU will always be your home.

“So from the bottom of my heart, I won’t say goodbye, I won’t say see you soon, I’ll only say: stay with us, the EU is your home.”

In a clash with Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe who welcomed the end of free movement, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who set up an MEP taskforce on citizens’ rights, noted that it was “only because of your electoral system that Johnson has a majority of seats in your parliament” and “the majority of British people did not vote for a Brexit [supporting] party”.

She also voiced concerns about whether the arrangements for citizens’ rights would prove adequate, adding “No government has the right to just remove citizens’ rights or to retroactively impose new requirements, because citizenship is a right. It is not a privilege that can be removed at a whim, at the simple stroke of a pen. So we’ll stand up for all five million EU citizens [referring to EU citizens who live abroad in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU].”

In order for the UK to leave with the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the MEPs will be asked to give a final ratification vote at the end of the month.

The British MEPs will sit in a final session in Brussels on January 29-30 and it is expected that there will be some form of ‘farewell ceremony’ on January 29 and a formal taking down of the UK flag from the parliament building there on the 31st.

It will then be moved to the House of European History museum.

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