European elections: French lawyer fights Brexit at UK polls

Chatting with voters in a small town in northwest England ahead of this week's European elections, lawyer Sophie Larroque's French accent is hard to miss.

European elections: French lawyer fights Brexit at UK polls
Sophie Larroque (L), a French EU citizen living in the UK, is standing as a candidate for the UK Party in the European Parliament elections. Photo: AFP

 The MEP candidate is one of several European expatriates making the leap into politics in Britain, spurred on by their opposition to Brexit.

A few months ago, nobody expected Britain to take part in the European Parliament elections, as the country was supposed to have left the EU on March 29.

The British parliament cannot agree on the exit terms however, forcing the departure date to be put back to October 31 and opening the way for polls that are being seen as allowing voters to express their views on the whole Brexit process.

Larroque, 40, works as a legal adviser in London, a job made possible by the EU-enabled mutual recognition of university degrees.


What you need to know about voting in the crucial European electionsPhoto: AFP

Determined to fight Brexit, she founded the UK EU Party with three British friends in April, despite having no political experience.

They raised the £15,000 needed to register candidates in three of the 11 British constituencies.

She has travelled almost daily from her home in London to northwest England, where she is hoping to be elected.

She has spent hours on trains, eating sandwiches and scrambling to learn more about the region, all paid for out of her own pocket.

“I'm juggling work, my clients, my cases — it takes a lot of organisation,” she said, on her way to Wilmslow — an elegant suburb of Manchester filled with mock Tudor houses with luxury cars parked outside.

'This is my home' 

Many Europeans hoping to become one of Britain's 73 MEPs are targeting their three million fellow expats.

“You don't have to be British to fight against Brexit, and you don't have to be British to love this country,” said Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish nurse who has lived in Britain for 19 years.

The 44-year-old is a candidate in the East Midlands for Change UK, a pro-European party formed only this year by lawmakers who defected from the two main parties.

“This is my home, I have three British children and I do not need a British passport to defend Britain's place in the EU,” he said.

As well as standing as a candidate, Pons has been fighting to ensure that EU expatriates are registered to vote in Britain.

Europeans can vote either in their home country or where they live, but many choose to cast their ballots for candidates in their home countries.

“Many people fear that if they register to vote here, when Brexit happens they will lose the right to vote in their own countries,” he said.

Photo: AFP

Right to vote

Jan Rostowski is another candidate targeting the expatriate vote — although unlike many others, he has more than enough political experience.

He served as finance minister in Poland and briefly as deputy prime minister, and is standing for Change UK in London, where he was born and raised.

He has been out campaigning in Ealing in west London, home to a large Polish community, but has his sights set higher than these elections.

“One of the things we want to do is give to EU citizens the right to vote in British elections,” he said.

His notoriety, however, is a double-edged sword.

Rostowski's comments about gay rights in the past have drawn controversy, although he says his views have changed.

“I would vote for someone completely new, who I don't know anything about, but he's controversial,” said Piotr, a 40-year-old Polish engineer who stopped to talk with the candidate.

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Down but not out: Macron eyes shakeup of European parliament

French President Emmanuel Macron tasted defeat in the European elections, but not disaster, and is set to continue pushing both his pro-EU agenda and a realignment of parties in the European Parliament.

Down but not out: Macron eyes shakeup of European parliament
Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party finished second behind the far-right National Rally (RN) of his arch-rival Marine Le Pen, but the two parties ended up with less than 1.0 percentage point separating them — on 22.41 percent and 23.31 percent respectively.
The vote was seen as a test for Macron domestically after months of anti-government “yellow vest” protests, while his credibility in Europe as a champion of deeper integration was also judged to be on the line.
“A disappointment, but not a defeat for the Elysee,” headlined Le Parisien newspaper on Monday, while an editorial in the Les Echos business daily said Macron's party was “resisting well” two years after his election.
Macron on Monday held a meeting of key figures from the LREM — including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the head of its list for the EU polls Nathalie Loiseau — to discuss the “next steps”, a presidential source said.

EU election ANALYSIS: Cut the hysteria, Le Pen is not on her way to French presidencyPhoto: AFP

The 41-year-old's priority will now be trying to increase his influence in the European Parliament where LREM and its centrist allies will send 23 MEPs, the same number as Le Pen's RN.

His long-standing objective is to redraw the political map of the EU parliament, long dominated by the centre-right EPP grouping and the centre-left S&D — in the same way as he broke the stranglehold of France's traditional parties.
Macron's EU-level partners, who form the ALDE group, finished third in Sunday's polls, but the French leader is now aiming to broaden the coalition to include new partners, particularly Greens who made major gains.
“The group that we are going to join is going to be a swing group which will try to be a driver in the creation of a progressive alliance. Why not with the Greens?”, French government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye told BFM television on Monday.
She added that ALDE would be renamed.
On Monday night, Macron will hold talks in Paris with victorious Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez whose Socialist party is set to become the biggest member of the S&D grouping after topping polls in Spain.
“At the European level, the president is still manoeuvring to form a large progressive alliance, a force that will be essential in the new parliament,” an aide to the French leader told AFP on Sunday.
Tricky Greens?
But Macron's ambitions, like his broader agenda for new EU initiatives, are likely to face resistance and it is far from certain that he can repeat his feat of fracturing Europe's centre-right and centre-left parties, as he did in France.
In a sign of the difficulties in proposing a deal with the Greens, influential and outspoken Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts appeared to rule out an alliance on Sunday, saying that Macron “couldn't give a shit” about the environment.
Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens, delivered a caustic speech to Macron when he visited the European Parliament in April last year, saying he had betrayed France's values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Some analysts see the ALDE grouping as increasing its influence in the new parliament, but as remaining a distinct group along with the Greens.
“Centrists and liberals are now strong enough to say to the EPP and S&D, you need to work with us and organise a four-way coalition,” Sebastien Maillard from the Jacques Delors Institute, a think-tank, told AFP.
By AFP's Adam Plowright