Yorkshire MEP Magid Magid: I love the European Union but I have to be honest and want it to be better
Former Sheffield Lord Mayor Magid Magid may only have four months as an MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber but he's determined to make as much noise as possible in his new role, including a tour of the region he represents. Rob Parsons reports.
In the centre of leafy Harrogate, a stone's throw from the queue for the ever-popular Bettys tea rooms, a 20-strong choir of pro-EU campaigners is in full voice.
Two-part harmonies waft gently on the breeze as the beret-clad choir, backed by guitar and saxophone, belt out re-worded versions of well-known songs to include lines about being 'forever European' and insulting arch-Brexiteers Johnson, Farage and Rees-Mogg.
A small gaggle of amused onlookers gather round, though not surprisingly in a town where the population voted narrowly in favour of staying in the EU three years ago, not everyone is happy to see them. 'Leave means leave' yells one man as he walks by.
Unmistakable among the singers in a backwards yellow baseball cap is Magid Magid, Green Party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, joining in the songs and occasionally breaking off to pose for selfies with passers-by.
It's the penultimate stop on a week-long tour that has taken Mr Magid, who served as Lord Mayor of Sheffield for an eventful year before being voted onto the European Parliament in May, around Yorkshire's leave-voting hotspots at a time when many Brussels politicians are on holiday.
And speaking to The Yorkshire Post in a coffee shop later that afternoon, the Somalia-born 30-year-old said he wanted to address the "massive disconnect between MEPs and people who actually vote in the elections".
He predicts an extension to the Brexit process beyond Boris Johnson's "do or die" deadline, but if his term in office ends on October 31 he says he would "hate to think that out of four months being an MEP I had a month of holiday".
Describing his tour of Yorkshire and the Humber taking in Hull, Grimsby, Barnsley, Doncaster, Wakefield and Rotherham, among others, the former Sheffield councillor says he wants to make sure people's views are heard in a region that voted strongly in favour of leave.
"Whatever they voted for I have still got a responsibility to represent them", he says. "People have got some concerns, it's not necessarily the fault of the EU. People are saying it's hard to get on the housing ladder, there aren't enough school places, you can put that down to austerity, it is down to failed government policy. It is just giving that time and telling people I am listening.
"It's also to represent Yorkshire and the Humber I need to understand it as well as I possibly can. it is rich and diverse in so many ways, whether that is people, landscapes, ideas, character. The more I am taking in Yorkshire and the Humber the better I can represent it."
In Leave strongholds like Barnsley and Doncaster he says he encountered no hostility but a range of views. These included some saying they were sick and tired of Brexit and one gentleman angry at Jaguar Land Rover stopping the production of its Defender model because it would not meet European laws on fuel emissions.
"You get people who say 'I don't care what happens, I know things are going to be tough, I don't care if the country burns'. They said 'we had the war and we came out of that OK'. There is a lot of war rhetoric at times. It wasn't fun, loads of people died in the war, it's not a good comparison to make."
Sworn in as Lord Mayor of Sheffield in 2018, the youngest person ever to hold the ceremonial role in Sheffield, his 12 headline-filled months included appointing Sheffield's first poet laureate in the form of rapper Otis Mensah and banning US President Donald Trump from the city.
His tenure as an MEP could be much shorter, with the UK set to leave the European Union at Hallowe'en. And Mr Magid says, perhaps jokingly, that he's intent on "causing chaos" when the EU Parliament returns in September.
He serves on two committees, one relating to civil liberties and digital rights and the other devoted to education, arts and culture. Highlighting the fact that unlike MPs, MEPs have an active role in drafting legislation, he says he "really wants to get my teeth stuck into" his new brief.
"Everyone is pulling you into so many different corners, I am having to say no 90 per cent of the time as my time is limited," he says. "I am trying to use the platform given to me to make as much noise as possible."
A few days into his role he provided unexpected fodder for the pro-Brexit press in a blog post where he claimed that "next to nobody in Brussels has any clue what the European Union truly stands for — beyond a flag and an anthem — and more crucially, where it is heading."
Insisting he stands 100 per cent by the comments, he suggests that even in the city of Brussels itself people have little idea about the function of the EU. "How do you think people in Bradford and Barnsley are meant to understand and know?"
He adds: "We can't pretend the EU is a safe haven for progressive ideas but I love it enough that I want it to be the best version of itself it can be and that means being honest with people.
"There are definitely a lot of similarities to being Lord Mayor of Sheffield. I am warm and receptive to everyone including the Brexit Party MEPs. If you are a racist to me I will still open the door for you.
"You get some outright fascists in the European Parliament, but you can't tell because everyone wears suits. Some people are hostile to me, I just laugh it off, some people are really warm.
"I've had so much media coverage all across Europe and it's given me an opportunity to talk about our region and to get across some ideas of what I would like the European Union to be like."
Other than planning a Hallowe'en party for Brexit day on October 31, he has no idea what he'll be doing if he finds himself out of a job.
"As long as I'm learning, taking myself out of my comfort zone and having a positive contribution on others around me, I will be happy," he says.
"I was an activist before I was a councillor or an MEP. There never really was a plan for me to be a politician. Things have been moving quite quickly.
"I have absolutely no idea what I'll be doing come October 31, I will still be campaigning actively whatever the platform. Most of the best campaigners I know aren't politicians, I just happen to be a politician."