Brussels: Some will walk away with bitter regret. Others will march off with their flag held high. But British MEPs of every stripe face an emotional final week in Brussels.
Those who believed in the European project were defeated by what they see as the “blatant lies” of the eurosceptics.
Those who came to Brussels to undermine the European Union are triumphant and keen to celebrate Britain’s “escape”.
The leader of the Labour Party delegation, Richard Corbett, has been a member of the European Parliament (MEP) since 1996.
“You get many MEPs coming up to you, giving you hugs, saying very kind words, about what we’ve done, how much they will miss us,” he said.
Corbett was in a park behind the Parliament’s modern headquarters, sitting on the same bench where he gave his first interview, just next to an appropriately named museum. “To come back here in a way to end it off is a very special moment. We’re next to the House of European History and this is of course a historical moment,” he said.
On the 65-year-old’s scarf are the UK and EU flags, and the dates of the beginning and end of Britain’s EU membership, like the headline of an obituary: “1973-2020”. Along with another 71 British members he will leave office on Friday, at midnight Brussels time, the moment of Brexit.
Is Corbett bitter?
“Yes. Because the Leave campaign that won the referendum nearly four years ago now was one of the most mendacious campaigns in political history,” he said of the 2016 vote that put Britain in the exit lane.
Corbett’s opponents in Britain’s Brexit Party, who campaigned in European elections on a platform that put themselves out of a job, are far more cheerful.
Brexit Party leader and long-standing MEP Nigel Farage will give a farewell “Brexodus” news conference on Wednesday and be gone by 8.00 pm (1900 GMT) that evening.
Other party members will stay on until Friday, led by Anne Widdecombe MEP, a former British minister who left the Conservative Party and retirement to join Farage in Brussels.
They plan to march away from the Parliament in formation, carrying the Union Jack, to take a Eurostar train to London in time to join Farage there for a “party to celebrate Brexit”.
The pro-Brexit brigade are not all former Tories like Widdecombe.
Claire Fox was a Revolutionary Communist before joining Farage’s revolution and was only elected in May last year.
“I’m here at a moment of history,” she said, arguing the European Parliament’s inability to generate its own legislation, which is drafted by the unelected European Commission, is undemocratic.
“I’m not intending to be triumphalist about it. I’m not wanting to kind of be overly rubbing people’s noses in it or anything of that nature,” she said.
But she is pleased “to have taught the people who are in the establishment a lesson, because they really did treat people with contempt”.
For Fox, the future for Britain looks bright, even if she does not support Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with Europe.
“I’m very optimistic, I’m excited about the possibilities,” she said.
“I’m not optimistic that the negotiations between the EU and the UK will go well over the next years. That’s different. But at least we now know that we have a chance of bringing democracy home.”
Whereas MEPs like Corbett are leaving long careers in European politics, the passion surrounding Britain’s Brexit debate has also thrown up newcomers who ended up having short parliamentary shelf lives.
Green MEP Magid Magid, 30, dares hope that his adoptive country of Britain — he was born in Somalia — will one day return to the European Union.
“As Britain we need to figure out what we want to be,” he said.
“Do we want to be like a small island, Little Britain, where we’re just trying to be in the pocket of Donald Trump and the United States?
“You know what? I still think that maybe in the future we’ll be back in the European Union. Maybe I’ll have a little bit more grey hair in my beard, but I’m quite hopeful,” he declared.
For the time being, perhaps, his battle is at home.
Pro-Europe MEPs fear that without Brussels’ rules, Britain will water down environmental protections and workers’ rights.
Another MEP, Liberal Democrat Shaffaq Mohammed, is also thinking of future generations.
“My daughter is 13 years old,” he said.
“I would love for her to have the opportunities that people have had for the last 40 years of being able to live, study and work in Europe. I hope she still can.” But for this generation, the adventure is over.
“The next few days, I’m packing up my boxes. I’m sadly making staff redundant. I’m beginning to think what I might do for the future but I’ve not decided yet,” Corbett said.
“I’m saving up to buy a horse to ride away into the sunset.”