By Mischa Thompson,
As part of a week of activities, top European legislators participated in a Capitol Hill event hosted by Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) on the potentially far-reaching impact of BREXIT and several European elections for the 57 North American and European countries that make up the region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Member of the European Parliament and former Italian Integeration Minister Cecile Kyenge launched the event with the assertion that the United Kingdom’s June 23, 2016 decision to leave the European Union (EU)—often described as BREXIT—“shook the European Project to its core with the unprecedented case of [a] Member State parting from the EU.”
Beyond BREXIT testing the EU, she also said it was a test for EU values. Reminding the audience that “the motto of the EU is ‘United in Diversity’ [and] its significance in Europeans coming together for peace and prosperity [across cultures],” she also noted how BREXIT had divided communities throughout the EU.
Building on these remarks, Commissioner Representative Sheila Jackson Lee highlighted the global leadership role the UK has played in human rights and asked the European delegation how BREXIT might impact this role going forward.
UK Parliamentarian David Lammy noted that the BREXIT vote was an extraordinary break from the past. “The British put politics before the economy [to] end the free movement of people across Europe,” he stated. “BREXIT will lead to economic decline in the short to medium term [and] will not lead to an end to immigration […] because when Britain goes to negotiate free trade agreements with [for example] India, the first thing they will say is they want visas for their people to come to the UK […] We will be trading immigration from Eastern Europe from other parts of the […] Commonwealth.”
He also acknowledged that while a “UK-US FTA (free trade agreement) is being discussed,” an agreement could have negative implications for the British on issues from the “National Health Service [to] genetically modified foods and crops.”
Observing that BREXIT was part of a long-standing conversation on immigration, refugees, and the economy of the European Union, Swedish Parliamentarian Momodou Jallow said, “Europe has an aging population and that means we need as many people as possible with the competencies we need to sustain the living conditions we created.”
Critical to sustaining European economies and standards of living, he highlighted the importance of “creat[ing] conditions for people to come work [under] the same labor conditions as Swedes and the need for social investments so all can work, pay taxes, [and] for a better society.”
“Policymakers have to do better to explain there is no conflict to have everyone work and maintain the living conditions we have created,” he stated. He also raised the EU’s history of defending human rights and challenges to that image during the current refugee crisis.
Noting that Britain has a need for trained adult workers “to scale up its workforce” in addition to a huge regional problem with wealth and power being centralized in London and resources not being adequately distributed throughout the country, Lammy said, “We should blame successive domestic governments for this failure in those communities. The EU was giving us little bits of substantive money to actually make things easier for people [in other regions]. Unfortunately, we could see the breakup of the UK,” he lamented.
Despite the uncertainty presented by BREXIT, Commissioners Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Gwen Moore vowed to continue transatlantic cooperation. Closing remarks by Representative Moore reminded participants of the role in global security and leadership the UK has played including in human rights and the continuing importance of U.S. civil rights leaders working with civil society across the Atlantic.
“We are concerned and wondering about the global implications BREXIT has for human rights,” she said. In the spirit of accountability and transparency “It is important for us to remain citizens and partners,” she said.
In addition to meetings with representatives of the U.S. government, private sector, and civil society, the European delegation also spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference.
For more information on the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference, download the full report.