January 31, 2020
There was singing. There were tears and jeers. People waved flags and scarves for rival camps. 
The Last Days Of Brussels: Heres What It Was Like In The EU Parliament On Brexit Eve
Britain’s 73 MEPs engaged in public displays of emotion perhaps more befitting a football match than a sitting parliament on Wednesday as members voted through the final Brexit deal.
At 11pm on Friday, those MEPs will find themselves with no role left to play. Their European colleagues must go back to work and adjust to life without them.
For campaigners like Nigel Farage, this historic moment marks “independence day” and is a triumph. For others, it is simply a tragedy. 
Labour’s Jude Kirton-Darling has represented the north east of England since 2014. On Wednesday – after the European Parliament ratified the Brexit deal, sparking a rendition of Auld Lang Syne among pro-EU MEPs – she left the chamber in tears.
“Sometimes people reduce it down to ‘we’re losing our jobs’,” she told HuffPost UK. “I don’t think the majority of us are that bothered about that side of it.
“It’s about identity – who we are and the choices our country has made. That’s far deeper. The hurt is much more profound.” Farage, the politician who has done arguably more than any other to bring about the divorce, joined Brexit Party colleagues in waving the Union Jack in the chamber. He darted out of the building as a supporter played the Animals’ “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place”. 
The writing has been on the wall for three and a half years – but the UK hasn’t always had such a virulent strain of euro-scepticism driving its politics.
The EU was championed by Margaret Thatcher – one of ex-Tory Farage’s political heroes – and British MEPs were central in shaping the single market, which liberalised trade and in turn led to enlargement of the bloc and closer integration between nation states.
Refusing to back the Schengen travel area in 1985 and opting out of the single currency in 1992, however, now seem like clear signposts to how the UK was turning against the European project.
Now, alliances forged over nearly half a century are set to shatter as the two sides hammer out a new trade deal at opposite sides of the table. Magid Magid, Green Party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, left the chamber in a T-shirt bearing the words “choose hope”.
“I guess there will be a lot of people who voted to remain who are feeling really down and upset and just don’t know what to do with themselves,” he said.
“Listen, the fight’s not over. The same reasons that we were campaigning to remain in the European Union, like climate change and securing rights – those fights are still there.”
The British-Somali 30-year-old joined the European Parliament just last year and wanted to use his time to bounce climate change up the agenda and change perceptions about refugees, having been one himself as a child. 
Of the European Parliament’s 751 MEPs, just three are black. Magid was asked on his first day in the building whether he was lost. 
Magid said: “The EU, by any stretch of the imagination, is no safe haven of progressive ideas. I’m not going to tell you it’s the best thing since sliced bread.”
He does see the institution, however, as a powerful vehicle for change despite its faults, and he will campaign for the UK to rejoin. 
He said: “I’ll probably have a grey beard by then. I don’t think it’d be the immediate future.
“But I can see a future of Britain not only just being back in the European Union, but actually taking the lead in the European Union.” 
Magid, who counts IT and canteen staff among the many friends he has made during his short time in Brussels, ended his stay with a party.
He says that, while he will “always be an activist”, he may embark on a career as a professional wrestler. 
Leaving the parliament, he told HuffPost UK: “I’ve tried very hard to hold back the tears but when people are so nice to you and we see such love and solidarity from colleagues across the political divide, it’s kind of overwhelming, really.
“So I guess I’m devastated, but we’re leaving with our heads held high and we’re leaving the ring knowing that we basically fought Brexit.” 
Like Magid, MEP for London and deputy leader of the Lib Dem group Luisa Porritt was elected for the first time last year.
She has spent her final days connecting other countries’ MEPs with UK citizens such as Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who still need help.
Porritt saw the general election, in which Boris Johnson’s pro-Brexit Conservatives won an 80-seat majority, as the “last chance saloon” for Remain – this generation. “It’s got progressively harder as we’ve got closer to the exit date, but overwhelmingly my feeling is sadness for the country and what we will be losing as we cease to be an EU member state,” she said, looking out the window of her office.
“And then, on a more personal level, my next concern is all the other staff members that work for the Lib Dem MEPs here.
“They’ve taken a huge risk coming and working for us in very volatile circumstances.”
Porritt, who is also a Camden councillor, says Brexit marks a period of reflection in the EU.
“I think that there would be a benefit to the UK having a similar parallel process and asking ourselves: where do we see our place in the world? Who do we want to align ourselves with?” she said. 
“It’s not just about geography and trade, it’s also about values, and I think fundamentally British values are European values.”
The Lib Dems’ first plenary session, in Strasbourg, saw the group don bright yellow “stop Brexit” T-shirts. Porritt is still optimistic that a reunion could lie in the future.
But she added: “We’d need a change of government in the first instance and the pathway to that is not clear either.
“So I think we’re looking at about a decade or so, but I don’t think Brexit is sustainable because overwhelmingly all young people are pro-European and wanted us to stay in the EU. So if they still feel the same way in the future, then a demand will come for us to rejoin.”
Porritt, 32, will spend Brexit in Paris where she studied as an undergraduate but will remember friends, such as Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela, who she sat next to in the parliament. 
She said she now feels “powerlessness”, adding: “There’ve been tears, including in public. It’s no secret.
“And it was really hard when we came back to Strasbourg right after the election. Lots of our colleagues from around Europe were hugging us and they all looked very sad as well.” 
The mood of solidarity has not been universal, however. 
Claire Fox, Brexit Party MEP, is overjoyed that her country is vacating its seats in Brussels and Strasbourg. 
“I couldn’t get over the kind of opulence of the place and the sense that we were being treated as though we were kind of really important people,” she said. 
For her, the institution is undemocratic and unrepresentative of the people it claims to serve.
And don’t get her onto the use of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy as Europe’s anthem. 
“I’m passionate about Beethoven and I object to it being used as what they call the national anthem,” she said.  
Fox was among the Brexit Party MEPs who turned their backs in a sign of protest when the music was used in Strasbourg. 
While she says some pro-EU British MEPs have been “incredibly unpleasant” and “toxic” to her, the mood has improved as Brexit day neared. 
“It was almost like a civil war that we got ourselves into,” she said. 
Europeans also changed from being hostile towards Brexiteers to being curious, she said. 
“I’ve been watching gradually my fellow MEPs from around Europe realising the narrative they bought, which was either that British voters were duped and would change their minds and want to stay in the EU, or that we were on the verge of a fascist coup.
“When they realised that those things were actually misinformation and fake news, they started to listen to Brexit Party MEPs. It’s been really interesting having those conversations across Europe with people who were curious and wanted to find out more.
“I feel as though we’ve represented our constituents and given them a voice.”
Kirton-Darling, who lives in Brussels with her Belgian husband and three-year-old son, will continue to be an ardent Remainer. 
She forged her career in the European trade union movement and was inspired to enter politics because of her mother, Janette, who successfully campaigned against toxic waste incinerators in “smoggie” Teesside.Her proudest moment was voting on legislation to improve pay and conditions – which could yet make the UK statute book – after helping McStrike protestors deliver a petition to the parliament.
She has struggled with Eurosceptic MEPs who she describes as “offensive, rude and gloating”.
But she, like them, sees the Brexit referendum vote as the true point of no return.  
“The only comparison I can make is a terminal illness,” she said.
“So you get your first diagnosis. That was the referendum result. And then we were coping, we were trying anything to try and get to a point where the British people, the public, could say: ‘This isn’t necessarily what we want.’
“So that was all of the treatment. And then with a terminal illness there comes a realisation that the inevitable is going to happen.”
She added: “We’ve lived through four Brexit deadlines up till now, but we know this is the last one and it’s going to happen this Friday and you’re grieving all of the time.
“So I feel like you can only prepare yourself so much in advance and there will be grieving after January 31 for what we’ve lost as a country.” 
Come 11pm, the 42-year-old will be at home with her family and will reflect on her contribution to the European story. 
“I think I’ll say to my grandchildren, if I see them, that I was there, I was involved and I did what I could,” she said.
“I hope that by the time my grandkids appear that we’ve already knocked on the door to come back here.” It's a wrap. We're out. Phew. pic.twitter.com/vhqR5KkZUg— Claire Fox (@Fox_Claire) January 29, 2020The EU could change profoundly before that time, she adds. 
“We haven’t been the ones who’ve been taking rules off the European Union – we’ve been at the front making those rules,” she said.
“So when things like the internal market or climate change, and on a whole range of other issues, the UK has been leading. Without us in that position, will somebody else step up or will there be a change in the priorities of the European Union? There could be some big, big shifts ahead.”
Britain’s link to the EU could also be eroded by the Brexiteers’ narrative, she added. 
“I fear is that there is rewriting of history going on,” she said. “It’s inevitable. It always happens, the victor writes history, right?
“But I would hope that in the future there is space in the history of our relationship with the EU for the legacy of the work that Labour MEPs did in the European Parliament.
“There are lots of rights that we take as just part of our birthright, which didn’t exist before we had MEPs in the European parliament. Only to give one example: before 1999 when the social chapter was extended to all British workers, 4m part-time workers didn’t have the right to paid holiday. We can’t imagine that now, and people don’t think about it, but that is all down to having dedicated MEPs.
“I particularly highlight the Labour MEPs but actually [it was] dedicated MEPs representing the UK. And I fear that in the rewriting of history, all of that legacy and all the hard work that a lot of people have put in over years will somehow be lost even in the footnotes.” 
Claire Fox, Brexit Party MEP for the north west, is hopeful that Brexit heralds a new era of renewal in the UK, something she hopes to lead on with events across the country.
She said: “This is just the start.
“I’ve never argued that the EU is some terrible bad thing and that if we got out we would have sunny uplands.
“I thought the EU was a break on democratic accountability for our politicians and now anything that they decide to do in the UK, they answer to us only. They can’t scapegoat the EU now or blame them.
“I also think that people have become politicised, radicalised, around this issue. Everybody’s got an opinion on first-past-the-post, House of Lords, collapse of the Labour Party – in a way, it’s refreshing.
“You can see that people do not want to go back to normal, not the same-old, same-old. And even though the Tories have got a massive majority, those votes are on loan to them by people who are not Tories – so interesting times, eh?” Related... Brexit Might Be Done But The Fight Against Boris Johnson's Destruction Must Continue 5 Ways To Look After Yourself If You're Totally Exhausted By Politics 'Put Your Flags Away': Nigel Farage Makes One Final Cringeworthy Scene In Brussels
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