Lancaster MEP: There will be another EU referendum as Boris Johnson ‘won’t be that reckless’

Gina Dowding in Strasbourg
Gina Dowding in Strasbourg

“I think we are heading towards a People’s Vote.” That’s the message from newly elected Lancaster Green MEP Gina Dowding, who says that a no-deal crash out of the EU would be “chaos”, and believes new Prime Minister Boris Johnson “won’t be that reckless”.

Two days after being elected as a Member of the European Parliament on May 26, Gina, 57, headed off to Brussels on the Eurostar to meet her fellow MEPs.

The Lancashire County Councillor for Lancaster Central, who was also elected onto Lancaster City Council in May, said she didn’t think the EU elections were going to happen in the UK, and had completely put it out of her mind.

“It was in March when we realised we were going to have to start campaigning, but we still didn’t know if we’d be taking part in the elections,” she said.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system to be launching a campaign.

“I decided to stand for the city council as well because I didn’t think the Euros were going to happen.

“We did really well in Lancaster with 20 per cent of the vote - 12.5 per cent of all votes cast in the UK went to the Greens.

“We’ve had seven per cent in the past.”

The North West elected three Brexit MEPs (formerly UKIP), two Labour, two Conservative, two Liberal Democrats, and one Green.

“This reflects the fact that the two big parties have lost out, and that the two party dominance is over,” Gina said.

“This strengthens the case for Proportional Representation in future elections.”

Gina says her experience so far of the European Parliament has been “very welcoming”.

“We’ve approached it as if we’re going to be there for the next five months,” she said, referring to the October 31 deadline for the UK leaving the EU.

“I’m not taking anything for granted, I just want to contribute as much as I can.

“There’s been a lot of travel. Lancaster to Brussels is five and a half hours.

“I’m usually there Tuesday and Wednesday, so set off on the Monday, come back on the Thursday.

“The big meetings in Strasbourg are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

“There are nearly 70 Green Party MEPs who have been elected - and they are all really competent, intelligent, and experienced people.

“It’s incredibly exciting because the Greens are now the fourth largest group in the European Parliament, and part of the Progessive Regionalists, which includes the SNP and Plaid Cymru, also the Catalonians, and a small party from Lithuania.

“The biggest group is called the EPP (European People’s Party), a centre right group, which includes Conservative type parties from across Europe, although the UK Conservative Party are further right than the EPP and are in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

“Then there’s the Socialists and Democrats, the third largest party, which includes our Labour Party.

“On the far right is the I&D or the Identity and Democracy Group - who are effectively a grouping of fascists.

“The Brexit Party haven’t been able to form a group of their own.

“There are groups that welcome the British and want the UK to remain in the EU,” she said.

“There’s a frustration with Britain, but there’s also a recognition that there’s a rising tide of intolerance, which is anti-European, populist, and people are wary.

“They don’t want that to happen to their own countries. But there’s an acceptance that across Europe there’s a need for change.”

Gina says she has been on a huge learning curve over the last two months, but feels optimistic and confident about the Green Party’s direction of travel.

She has joined three committees - Industry Research and Energy, Transport and Tourism, and Foreign Affairs.

She said she would like to focus on Israel and Palestine, and says that the Palestinians think the EU would be an honest broker.

She also wants to focus on “the use of illegal practices” during the 2016 EU referendum, and also how boat captains in the Mediterranean are being prosecuted for rescuing migrants.

“As a green group we’re campaigning for action on climate change, rule of law, and social and gender inequalities as part of the Green New Deal,” she said.

“We’ve got a really strong manifesto.

“It’s about tackling climate issues but creating jobs, investing in public transport, making cycling a much more attractive option, green industries, waste recycling, and home energy efficiency.

“But we need to make sure that it’s people that stand to benefit rather than big business.

“Our communities that stand to lose the most from moving to a carbon neutral economy need to be the ones that actually benefit.

“We’re going to be trying to influence the programme for the next five years.”

She also criticised “populist” politics and parties, and the idea that being part of the World Trade Organisation would be good for the UK.

“Populism is playing to people’s worst instincts - fear, anger and blame,” she said.

“There’s a negative tide that shouldn’t be ignored.

“I’m pro-EU but I don’t think we should have more and more integration, just more co-operation.

“It’s about protecting people.

“What we’ve got now are these huge global, multinational companies, and we need a strong EU as a push back against the movement of capital and people around the world.

“There’s a case for a strong resistance to the global giants who can be stronger than countries themselves.

“They’re playing countries off against eachother - concentrating on where they can pay the lowest wages, and pay the lowest taxes.

“Up until recently, not many people understood words like the WTO, or ‘proroguing parliament’.

“What I know is that the WTO is in the hands of those big global giants.

“The EU is a union of countries, not a country in itself.

The WTO is a kind of club that sets the rules of world trade, but it meets the demands of big business.

“It’s about lowering standards, it’s in favour of trade at any cost, and trade that benefits big business - not the consumer, and certainly not the environment.

“It’s the chlorinated chicken - that’s an example of the kind of worries we should have about all of this.”

But Gina said she also had concerns about the EU’s attitude to climate change and the environment.

She said that although 35 per cent of the EU’s research budget was earmarked for climate related issues, she didn’t think the issue of carbon neutrality was being taken seriously enough.

“Across Europe we have seen a vote for change,” she said, “but it still seems like they’re sticking with the same people, and not taking carbon neutrality seriously enough.

“In some ways we feel that the European parliament has been sidelined, but saying that, the European Council (which defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities but does not pass laws) aren’t faceless beauracrats, these are leaders of European countries, heads of state.”

Gina said that when she first got into politics, her parents, who have both since passed away, worried she was rocking the political boat.

In 2017, Gina was found guilty of obstructing the highway during an anti-fracking protest at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road near Blackpool, but resolutely said she would do it again.

“My mum used to say when I first got into politics, ‘you’re not upsetting anyone are you?’, ‘what do they think of you?’,” she said.

“They were afraid to talk about politics, and wouldn’t dream of questioning the government on their policies, or think it might go against their interests.”

On the UK’s future relationship with the EU, which, following the referendum in 2016, has become the ultimate bone of contention in the UK, Gina says she thinks the UK is likely to remain in the EU.

“Unless the new leader of the Tory Party does something completely reckless, with a crash out, which would be chaos, I just can’t see that they’ll be that reckless, I think we will end up remaining because extracting ourselves is more expensive and disruptive than we ever imagined,” she said.

“The benefits of being in the EU far outweigh the negatives, and I think we are heading towards a People’s Vote”.