What a tremendous result for the Liberal Democrats in The Richmond Park by election last week! It's so nice to write this newsletter after such good news. I watched the results on the TV from afar in Warsaw, and I have to admit I skipped around my hotel room in delight!
Sarah’s victory in Richmond shows just what can be achieved when we pull together. They said we should not fight the campaign on our stand on Brexit, that we had lost the battle and there was nothing to be done. But our campaigning force on the ground is indomitable and the result gives every liberal - and pro European hope for the future.
Both Witney and Richmond show us that campaigning in constituencies on our future with the EU is not a toxic topic and that we are seen as the only centre ground party with the long term future of our relationship with the EU and the rest of the world at our heart. These two back-to-back by-elections have given us valuable experiences and can empower our members for the future.
In the other by-election in Sleaford and North Hykeham they hadn't voted to Remain, but our result there also shows we are on the up all across the country – be they Remain or Leave constituencies. I believe our message will only continue to secure us successes and it is wonderful to see the party is proud to put Europe in their leaflets!
War on Wildlife Crime
My report on wildlife trafficking was overwhelmingly passed in the Environment Committee.
As many of you know protecting our natural environment is a real driver for me, particularly in European politics - so this is a real personal victory for me, though the first step on a long journey.
For too long, wildlife traffickers have been getting off with a slap on the wrist across the EU. But this is a serious and organised crime by efficient and international criminal gangs. They should be facing consistent sentencing across the EU – this report sets the wheels in motion for ensuring this becomes a reality.
The report recommends, among other things: minimum prison sentences for wildlife traffickers, establishing an EU wildlife trafficking coordinator and an immediate ban on the ivory trade into and out of the European Union.
Now I have the backing of the Parliament I will continue to ensure that we deliver the recommendations as I work with the European Commission and other agencies across the Union
Meeting fellow liberals in Warsaw
Last weekend saw me in Warsaw for the 37th ALDE Party Congress.
As with all of these events, it was wonderful to meet with so many liberal friends from across the continent. The liberal order is facing challenges right across Europe – and globally – making this a very important ALDE Congress, and also the largest I have attended so far.
The energy, doggedness and sheer determination from colleagues to right wing extremism was certainly buoying. Nationalism has never really served communities well and the Liberals are ready to stand firm against these movements wherever they are to be found in Europe.
Watch this space!
PPCs visit Brussels with Tim Farron
This week I hosted a fantastic group of Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in Brussels for a two day training session on the issue of the European Union.
As the only party able to provide real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government, our candidates and campaigners will be the ones on the ground fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united, and taking this message to the public.
I would like to say a massive thank you to all the speakers who helped deliver our training sessions and to the Brussels and Europe branch of the Lib Dems for laying on a wonderful reception for us.
We were also joined in the European Parliament by Tim Farron, who met with ALDE Group President and EU Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt. Tim delivered a clear message: we deserve more than a short term quick fix deal imposed on us by Westminster or Brussels and that the final deal must be put to the British public before it can be truly accepted by the British public.
Our brilliant Lib Dem candidates and campaigners from across the country will continue to say, loudly and proudly, that we must remain a member of the Single Market and the people must be given a final say over any Brexit deal, and they will have Tim Farron and myself backing them up.
This month I want to continue with our theme of positivity with another possible good piece of news in the offing - associate EU citizenship.
This was an idea tabled by my fellow liberal MEP Charles Goerens from Luxembourg and has gained more support than you might imagine. It would effectively mean citizens of any countries that choose to leave the EU could opt in to maintain their EU citizenship.
I have been overwhelmed by heart-felt messages from people asking me to do what I can to support the proposal - I am of course working hard to explore the option and will be doing all I can to build coalitions of support for any measure that extends an olive branch from the EU to the 48% who wanted to stay in the EU.
Unfortunately the amendment was withdrawn from Committee because it doesn't yet have the support of the larger political groups. But the Parliament's Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, is pushing for the amendment to be reintroduced once the European Parliament puts forward its position on the notification of Article 50. So there is certainly hope. I'll keep you posted on my website and in these newsletters.
Well, that's all from me for 2016 - I can't say it's been one of the best years for politics - British, European or globally but what a difference this string of three excellent by-election results has brought, which puts us in good heart for future battles ahead.
Now all that's left for me to do is wish you a warm and restful Christmas and a happy new year! Make sure you get rested - I think next year's going to be a busy one!
Catherine Bearder MEP