Seventy three empty seats? The Brexit nightmare (Britain Exit), which has been keeping many EU leaders awake at night, takes the shape of a question: if in the referendum of June 23 British voters decided in the affirmative, that is, in favour of London’s separation from the rest of Europe, what would happen at the next plenary session of the European Parliament scheduled from July 4 to 7? Would British MEPs still sit in their seats or would they remain at home? Indeed, in case the majority decided to “leave” the consequences would be of considerable proportions, yet to be evaluated, with possible repercussions on the economy and politics of the island and on the European Union as a whole. Yet the question on the composition of Strasbourg’s Assembly is not meaningless, in the sense that it sums up the knots on future relations – institutional, political, economic and social – between London and the “common home.”
Fragmented delegation. At present, 73 out of 751 MEPs are British. They rank third numerically, in terms of population, behind their German (96) and French (71) colleagues, with one seat more than Italy (72). Twenty-two of them, members of Nigel Farage’s Independence Party, sit in the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy grouping (EFD) in the European Parliament: namely, the eurosceptic group – “no to Europe” – par excellence. 21 elected members of the Conservative Party, i.e., the Tories of Prime Minister David Cameron, sit in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Another 20, Labour, are members of the Socialists and Democrats (S & D) group; 6 sit with the Greens (elected in the Green Party or the Scottish National Party); while a deputy each from the Liberal Democrats, the United Left, the other eurosceptic group, sit with the Europe of Nations led by Marine Le Pen in France. Finally, there is also one “non-registered” MEP (the Irish Unionist Diane Dodds).
Is it the last time? European Parliament group leaders are worried about what could happen next June 23 regarding the future of the United Kingdom and of the EU, as well as the possible jolt in the balance of power within the European Parliament caused by the withdrawal of British representatives. Nigel Farage showed great confidence: for years, with its United Kingdom Independent Party, he has been fighting for the end of Britain’s experience in the EU, begun with accession in 1973. “I hope this is the last time I speak in this hall as a British MEP,” he said with bravado at the plenary of June 6 to 9 in Strasbourg. The battle against European integration “will have no end until we agree to break away from Brussels.” Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EPP; the largest group in the EU Assembly, never tender towards eurosceptics and nationalists of all kinds, as usual, spoke in clear terms: “Ultimately it will be for the British people to decide for their future. If anything, all we can is to root for the UK’s permanence in the EU. However, it should be said that EU adhesion is not compulsory. It’s a responsible choice that entails a set of specific responsibilities. One can remain inside or outside, accepting its consequences.”
Political debate. Moreover, is the British constituency aware of the matter at stake? “This should be clarified in internal debates, and it should be explained by British party leaders – Weber pointed out-. Similarly, they should reflect on which kind of United Kingdom they want for the future, also vis a vis major global challenges that include the economy, security, relations with the United States, Russia, and China. It isn’t only a question of migration…” What would happen in the European Parliament if the a Brexit “yes-vote” prevailed? “The Treaty fails to provide a precise answer to this question. For sure, at the European Council”, whose members are the heads of government and State, the British premier “would lose the right to vote “, and therefore” London would no longer have decision-making powers at the EU level. ” As of the status of MEPs, however, it is necessary to wait in case of an official separation between the EU and the United Kingdom.
Rooting for a “no-vote.” Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt remarked black-browed: “a Brexit will have dramatic consequences” for British people. “It will affect the economy, companies will pay a heavy price, London will be cut off from the single market. Britain will not succeed in controlling incoming migration flows alone. Not only that, the more than one million Britons who live and work in EU countries the day after will be extra-EU citizens”, like any American, African or Asian Citizen.
“Britons living and working in Germany or France would need visas.”
Italian MEP Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist & Democrats group, commented with a smile: “I hope that at the next plenary we will be here to toast for the British decision to remain in the EU. I hope so for the good of the United Kingdom and its citizens, and also for the EU as a whole. It’s up to them to choose, but I believe that the best decision for everyone is to stay together, working together to improve our Europe.” Also Philippe Lamberts, Belgian ecologist, convinced Europeanist, always active in denouncing the delays of Community policies, confides in a “no-vote.” “Even bookmakers are betting on it”, he remarked with a wink. Although in the polls the two options are virtually matched. “It is not just an internal matter. A Brexit would result in the weakening of all involved parties: United Kingdom and European Union alike. This is why we Greens are conducting a battle across the Country, so that common sense and European unity may prevail.”