2016 brought an unexpected new role for a Yorkshire politician. Political Editor James Reed spoke to the region’s latest, and possibly last, MEP.
IF a contest was held for the biggest surprise thrown up by politics in 2016 there would be a lot of strong entries, including from John Procter.
The long-serving Leeds councillor became an MEP in November, two-and-a-half years after taking part in the European elections when he thought his opportunity had gone..
“Like so many people are saying, at the beginning of the year who would have thought we would have voted in favour of Brexit, Donald Trump would be president and that I’d be a member of the European Parliament.
“If you had put money on all three, that would have been some odds,” he says.
Mr Procter was third on the Conservatives’ list of candidates for the European Election in May 2014.
However, the party only won enough votes to secure one of Yorkshire’s six seats which went to the Conservatives’ first candidate, sitting MEP Timothy Kirkhope.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU in June meant Yorkshire’s current MEPs were likely to be its last.
But outgoing prime minister David Cameron’s decision to award a peerage to now Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate created a vacancy now filled by Mr Procter who is likely to be Yorkshire’s last MEP.
“It is a great honour and however long I am a member of the European Parliament for then that’s my time and I will do my very best to represent the people of Yorkshire and Humber while I am here,” he says.
“My personal view is that we will only be here as members of the European Parliament until the next European elections and that’s at the very latest in my view.
“That means June 2019 at the very latest.”
Mr Procter admits that a family holiday coinciding with Mr Cameron’s resignation honours list meant he was unaware for a while of Lord Kirkhope’s elevation.
Even once he had caught up with the news, Mr Procter assumed Lord Kirkhope would continue as an MEP and it was only later that he began to realise there would be implications for his own future.
But his appointment as MEP was briefly placed on hold as Alex Story, a fellow candidate for the Conservatives in 2014 claimed the seat was rightfully his.
Mr Procter insists he did not pay attention to the row and was “getting on with my life”.
“I’m one of those people that thinks it’s not happening until it’s happening and whatever the situation was between the party nationally and Alex was a matter for them.
“I still have no idea of it, notion of it. I was just a bystander just getting on with my everyday life.”
In common with his predecessor, Mr Procter was a Remain supporter in June’s referendum but he now insists he wants to focus on ensuring Yorkshire’s needs are addressed in the Brexit talks.
His priority, he says, is to spend time “listening not lecturing” over what happens next.
“Our house was split down the middle, I voted to remain, my wife voted to leave. We cancelled each other out.” he says.
“We had many interesting conversations with all of our friends and I think that was the issue for many people across the country.
“Different people voted for their respective view for a whole host of different reasons. There wasn’t a simple single thing in my view that people were all voting the same way for and we ended up with the result that we did.
“What I am keen to know is what people want out of Brexit. That’s what I am going to do over the next two-and-a bit years, making my way around Yorkshire finding what sort of Brexit the people of our region want.”
The demands of the new role, including frequent travel to the European Parliament’s twin seats in Brussels and Strasbourg, have implications too for Mr Procter’s family.
“From a home point of view, I’m married, I’ve got a couple of young kids and they all see it as a really exciting time not just for them but for me too.
“I’ve been busy Skype-ing and Facetime-ing at every possible opportunity so my kids can ‘wow’ at all the great buildings that are here.
“And also come up with those imponderables that none of us can quite answer like ‘why are their two parliaments daddy?’, ‘why do you have to spend time travelling between these two places?’ all of which many of the British people think as well.
“The sheer ridiculousness of these two places, my children aged 10 and 11 get it. it’s a shame that the bureaucracy of the European Union doesn’t.”