PES Congress in Madrid

Photo: Udo Bullman, Leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament discussing Brexit options with Jeremy Corbyn and Baroness Chakrabarti.

On 22 February I flew with Jeremy Corbyn to Madrid to represent the Labour Party at the congress of the Party of European Socialists – the European level party to which Labour is affiliated.

The congress itself was a success in that it adopted the common European Socialist election manifesto for the European parliamentary elections in May and endorsed our candidate to be the next President of the European Commission, the Dutchman Frans Timmermans .

Our main task was to hold a series of bilateral meetings with socialist leaders, including a number of Prime Ministers, about Brexit. I replaced Jeremy (who had to get back to London) at a working dinner of socialist Prime Ministers and party leaders in the evening.

There was a high level of solidarity with the Labour Party. Our European comrades share our objective of avoiding a no-deal Brexit, understand our criticisms of May‘s deal, agree that the alternative deal sketched out in Jeremy‘s letter to Theresa May would have been (and could in principle still be) a far better basis for negotiation than May’s red lines. They will not tear up the Irish backstop (safety net) because to do so, in the words of one of them, they would tear up the Good Friday Agreement. Above all, they hope that we will change our minds and remain in the European Union. They would all agree to extend the Article 50 deadline to give us time.