European When Convenient: Brexit MEPs Turn Their Backs During European Anthem

The opening ceremony of the European Parliament on July 2nd, 2019, saw MEPs from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party turning their backs on the European Union’s national anthem, ‘Ode to Joy’. Farage quickly turned to Twitter to state that the new group had “[…] already made its presence felt” and that is was a “[…] very silent act of defiance” – reported by Sky News. However, Labour MEP, Richard Corbett – reported by the Independent – argued that the “[…] Brexiteers think they’re being clever by standing with their backs to the chair at the opening session”, adding the move looks “[…] pathetic and has not impressed anyone”.

MEPs were voted in to represent the British people and without a deal being negotiated by the government, we remain within the EU. Therefore, what is to be expected from MEPs is to appropriately respond to the level of responsibility needed for the role. Brexit has become a taboo word within our culture, as it is a term that has fractured British politics, divided the nation and consumed the lives of millions. On the 23rd of June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1%. After what could be argued as substandard negotiations from outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May and the current Conservative government, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit loomed over the UK. Therefore, with a Brexit deal not decided upon, the British public once again took to the polling booths to elect EU Representatives on May 23rd 2019. The newly-founded Brexit Party, formed and led by Nigel Farage, a significantly outspoken, right-wing political figure, topped the polls and headed to the European Parliament.

The Brexit party continues to be vocal about their aversions towards the EU. They have campaigned on a Eurosceptic platform with the slogan, “we want our country back” becoming a staple within the leavers’ rhetoric and they have expressed their desire to “break the political union with Europe”, as stated by the BBC. However, although vocal about their distaste for the EU, MEPs voted in are set to start collecting their salaries of £9,900 a month (before taxes) and if we still haven’t left the EU within the year, they are also eligible to receive a salary-based pension – as reported by Al Jazeera. Farage, whom in recent times has dedicated his career to Brexit, will be eligible for a pension worth 70% of his salary – currently £82,200; the average salary for full-time work in the UK, as reported by Al Jazeera, is £45,700.

MEPs surely won’t turn their backs on their pay checks, so why did they turn their backs on the very establishment on which they depend for their livelihood? The New York Times commented on this with regards to Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader vying to become President of France, whom like Brexiteers gladly took the position and the generous salary that came with it, by saying right-wing parties continue to “[…] provoke populist fury by attacking the European Union, yet happily pocket government salaries and other benefits”. Brexit MEPs turning their backs last week was an easy way to secure media attention, good or bad, in order to continue to blame the EU institutions for being onerous bureaucracies, all the while enjoying the perks of office.

MEPs are also granted immunity from any measure of detention and from legal proceedings, as explained by the European Parliament. This therefore enables MEPs from the Brexit party to receive legal protection from the very institution they are desperate to abscond. Esther de Lange, a lawmaker with the Christian Democratic Appeal – reported by the New York Times – said far-right members are “[…] hallowing out the whole structure from within, and it’s like tooth decay […]”.

Although this stunt may appear harmless and an act to create headlines and Twitter hashtags, it feels as if these Brexiteer MEPs want to further isolate Britain from the EU, to stir up anger and hated, and push a right-wing rhetoric of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ with the symbolism of the EU not being welcome within our culture. These MEPs were voted for in a democratic election to represent the British people, this means they should take the responsibility seriously, and arouse issues concerning the British public. They should not rebel in such a way that excludes our politics from the diplomatic sphere or creates an image of idleness. Right-wing politicians should not be dissident towards the EU whilst blissfully enjoying a substantial wage. Their main vector of publicity appears to be plagued by controversy; however, the British public deserve more. Their platform should be used for political virtue. The directives of Brexit are still unknown and whether MEPs are remainers or leavers should not disrupt them acting accordingly on behalf of the UK. Instead of creating unnecessary media attention, Brexiteer MEPs should be discussing everything from global warming, medical safety and consumer protection.


Katie Clarke