IN the first days of the new European Parliament, we heard former Tory Minister Ann Widdecombe – who believes that science could one day come up with a way to stop being gay – compare the European Union to slave owners and an empire which oppresses its colonies.
Now let’s be very clear about this. The EU exists to create opportunities. It exists to stop the wars which had blighted Europe for centuries. It exists to provide a brighter and better continent and world to our kids.
The Brexit Party’s first contribution to the new European Parliament is to once again show its ignorance, both of the EU and of history.
I’d say that it is appalling and outrageous and ridiculous, but those things are obvious about what Ann Widdecombe said last week. It’s obvious to anyone who has any understanding of history. But it isn’t obvious to Ann, apparently.
I was born in Kashmir, Pakistan, a country that was colonised by the British and which gained independence in 1947.
I remember stories from my father and grandfather about what it was like to live in a colony.
I remember stories of fear, of oppression, of persecution. Ann Widdecombe is just plain wrong to suggest that the EU is anything similar to that.
So I say this to her. Let’s debate. I’ll stand up and explain why what you said was not just wrong and bad history. But why, as someone born to a family with memories of living under an empire, the EU couldn’t be more dissimilar.
That’s why I campaigned to get elected to the European Parliament.
For the same reason that my father and grandfather moved to Britain after the Second World War – to create better opportunities for their kids. Because the EU is not some oppressive empire looming over the UK. The UK is a leader in Europe! It always has been.
And successive generations have realised that they’re duty-bound to work together with people all around us to ensure that their children – the next generation – have better opportunities.
For over 20 years now, I’ve been a youth worker in Sheffield, working with some of the regions most disadvantaged young people.
I see day in, day out, what happens when kids don’t feel like they have the opportunity to get on in life.
I know that the EU creates opportunity for young people. To live, work and study across Europe.
Those are opportunities that many in my generation have taken advantage of. I don’t want to be part of a generation of parents whose kids end up with fewer opportunities because of Brexit.
I campaigned and got elected on a clear message: Stop Brexit.
When I sit in the European Parliament, I remember those stories from my father and grandfather. And I look around and see people from 28 countries working together to face the problems which attack us as a unit, like the climate emergency.
We’re not fighting to resolve our differences any more, we’re not sending generation after generation into battle to move lines on a map.
We’re talking, debating, producing solutions to those problems which don’t recognise borders or stop at the edge of where one country ends and another begins.
I think that’s a better way to do things.
In the past week, we’ve seen two approaches.
We can, like the Brexit Party, turn our backs on our neighbours, our colleagues, our allies and pretend that we can solve all our problems alone.
Or, we can, like the Liberal Democrats, stand up and lead in Europe, be outward-looking, internationalist and show the world that we want to play our part in creating those solutions.
Shaffaq Mohammed is a newly-elected Lib Dem MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.