“Good evening, Cambridge. I’m so proud to be your Member of the European Parliament – still.” That was not the speech I had expected to make on Friday 29 March.
As the House of Commons vote that was not a ‘meaningful vote’ was unusually held on a Friday, unlike ‘meaningful vote’ one and two, I was in the constituency. For the previous votes I had been in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
My first engagement was to join Bedfordshire Police on one of their shifts but on the way I stopped in a lay-by to do my first radio interview of ‘Not Brexit day’ with BBC Radio Essex. Two UKIP voters who were feeling betrayed preceded me and we discussed how the day might pan out.
Arriving at Luton Police Station I was met by two Police Officers and kitted out in a police observer jacket. Then I spent the first part of ‘Not Brexit day’ in the back of a police car – again hardly how I had expected to spend 29 March!
Bedfordshire Police is one of the most underfunded forces in the country. The problem is well documented. It is treated as a rural force, but has urban challenges.
Bedfordshire has the third highest terror risk in the country, drug dealers who exploit its easy access to London and a rapidly expanding international airport.
At this year’s Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn quoted the Bedfordshire Chief Constable, who said he did not have enough officers to respond to 999 calls.
I have backed the local paper’s campaign for more money, and spoken out about Bedfordshire police funding in the European Parliament chamber, so it was good to meet the bobbies on the beat first hand.
At the vast majority of incidents they attended, it was clear that drugs
and mental health problems were a key factor.
I was really heartened though, by how the public were ringing in not just to report crime but because they were concerned about a person’s well-being. I was also deeply impressed by the professionalism, friendliness and calm manner of the officers.
One thing that did surprise me was to find out that the patrol car did not have a Sat Nav. How ridiculous that officers are wasting time fiddling around for directions on mobile phones – that needs to change and I will be following it up.
It was later on in Hitchin while meeting a charity who work on ending animal testing by funding researchers to carry out cutting edge animal-free research, that the news of the Brexit vote came through.
We had finished the first part of our discussions about their work and the EU’s REACH directive and as it was a bright and sunny day their Comms officer had suggested we went outside to stand by the picturesque St Mary’s Church.
She had prepared a script for me to read for a short video. Then in a scene reminiscent of ‘The Thick of It’, she held the camera while the CEO held a giant piece of paper with the words they wanted me to say in front of her head, and I read them out.
Passers by looked on in bemusement. Then Chris from my office, who had been watching the live coverage of Parliament on his phone, announced that the result had just come through. The government had lost again: Ayes 286, Noes 344.
As soon as we left the charity, we sent out a press release with my comments and shortly afterwards I did an interview with BBC Three Counties radio (from a Waitrose car park) with the predictable question about whether I would stand in any upcoming European elections (the answer was, yes of course, if I am reselected by the Labour Party).
After a quick pit stop I went through some emails Rafi from my office had sent on. She had helpfully grouped them: Brexit: Complimentary of Labour; Brexit: Critical of Labour; European Maritime Fisheries Fund; Others.
I drove to Cambridge and did my final radio interview of the day for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in the MP’s house. Then we went together to the ‘Cambridge Stays’ rally.
Cambridge was one of the most remain voting areas in the country. We were met by five hundred people who had gathered outside the famous King’s College.
Due to a slight diary clash, the Air Cadets were also holding a parade at the same location. At 6pm they set off and marched right through the middle of our assembled crowd, who obligingly parted and applauded.
Then our rally began, and the organiser started his tub thumping speech, but then only three minutes in, the cadets’ marching route took them right back through the Remain rally again, so we all stopped and applauded again.
A woman nearby to me remarked it was like something out of Dad’s Army! It was, and it was funny, but on reflection, the fact that so many of our cultural references are tied up with a crippling nostalgia for World War Two, is surely part of the reason the referendum got us into this pickle in the first place.
Daniel Zeichner MP, a Baroness, councillors and campaigners from across the political spectrum spoke, with me closing the rally.
Speakers talked about how the EU is about prosperity and peace and the values we share of cooperation, consensus, tolerance, openness and internationalism. It was energetic and inspiring.
I walked back from the rally with Daniel and we reflected on what next?
In some ways ‘Not Brexit Day’ felt a bit like Groundhog Day: we were again faced with a ticking clock and just two weeks to go until we crashed out of the European Union with no deal.
But would May try her deal again? A new Prime Minister? EU elections? A general election? Another Article 50 extension? A People’s Vote?
I don’t know, but I do know I will be on the Eurostar on Monday 1 April, off to Brussels to represent the people of the East of England and to vote on their behalf in the European Parliament.
This article first appeared in Left Foot Forward on 1st April 2019.