How a visit to the European Parliament reaffirmed my support for leaving the EU

How a visit to the European Parliament reaffirmed my support for leaving the EU

My first visit to the European Parliament in Brussels last week certainly brought out the politics nerd in me, even though it didn’t change my mind on Brexit.

I have always considered myself a “pragmatic Brexiteer” and never harboured any ill will towards the Parliament itself, or MEPs who genuinely seek to make a difference in Europe and the wider world: from pushing for higher animal welfare standards to reducing inequality and supporting humanitarian aid projects, there are some positives. Sitting in on a fish welfare meeting shortly after my arrival showed me just how wide-ranging the issues covered there are, and the commitment of those involved to change things for the better was obvious.

But for all the good things I witnessed during my visit, they didn’t outweigh the deep-rooted problems running through the EU. Seeing first-hand the trunks sat outside MEPs’ offices that they use to transport their work between Brussels and Strasbourg was a visual reminder of the needless extravagance of the EU – the cost of operating two sites, chauffeurs for the MEPs, their vast expenses budgets and even ensuite toilets in the MEPs’ offices… The list goes on.

All of this is being paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of every Member State. Maybe not everyone will be particularly bothered or shocked by these things and perhaps they might even write them off as perks to attract talent; but they do hark to a bigger problem with the EU – and that is the way it, or should I say those at the top, perceive themselves and their project in comparison to the rest of the world.

The EU believes it is a superior power and should be respected as such. You only have to look at the way Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and Co. have treated the UK for confirmation of this: dare to disagree with their vision of a United Federation of Europe, and they react like bullies who couldn’t get your lunch money.

Walking through the buildings, it reminded me of when I’ve attended the Conservative Party Conference – the press area buzzing with live TV interviews throughout the day and people catching up over coffee or rushing to their next event or meeting. Once inside, I was able to wander around, attend events, sit in on the voting, or visit the MEPs’ offices – which is probably the closest you’ll get to transparency in the European Union.

Chatting to an APA (Accredited Parliamentary Assistant), we of course came onto the subject of Brexit. He wished the UK wasn’t leaving, however he agreed that the EU hadn’t helped the situation back when David Cameron was seeking reforms to the UK’s membership by offering him so little. The EU called the UK’s bluff and the British people responded accordingly, using the power of democracy – a concept seemingly lost on the European Commission.

Towards the end of my trip, I explored the ‘Parlamentarium’, which is a museum a stone’s throw from the Parliament that takes visitors on a tour through the EU’s history, detailing its structure, a timeline of when each member state joined and the key objectives of the EU. It’s an interesting journey through EU propaganda that ends with a lovely gift shop filled with EU flags, mugs, badges, umbrellas, bags… Anything an EU fanatic or a Remoaner’s heart could desire!

At one point during my tour, I couldn’t spot the exit and suddenly felt a sense of panic of being trapped in the EU’s propaganda machine forever, just like the UK could be trapped in a never-ending customs union – an experience I never wish to repeat.

Even as I sat on the Eurostar on my way back to London, I noticed a passenger sat across the aisle from me whose laptop had an ‘I’m In’ sticker on it from the Stronger In referendum campaign – another reminder that three years on, those who support the EU project just can’t let go. Which is why it is more important than ever that we don’t let them forget the 17.4 million people who voted to leave it.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip; the people I met there both in the Parliament and in Brussels itself were friendly and welcoming and the (subsidised) food was amazing.

But getting a taste of the EU first-hand not only reaffirmed my Brexiteer stance; it also made me wonder how things might have been had reform been possible. If you ever get the chance to visit and see it for yourself, I would highly recommend it.