Aides to British MEPs prepare to look for new jobs as Brexit looms
Hundreds of parliamentary aides to British MEPs are on the brink of redundancy following Brexit – marking the end of one of the most diverse workforces in the institution, departing staffers say.
Each of the MEPs has the right to three aides in Brussels, meaning more than 200 job losses, with many more employed in constituency offices.
In the Green Party alone, 47 will lose their jobs, including the only two hijab wearing parliamentary staff members.
Despite only having worked in Brussels since July, Aya Delfi, 24, and Lara Alagha, 23, managed to make an impact – by ensuring Muslim staff had access to the meditation room for Friday prayers.
Ms Alagha said: “Most of the Muslims here are cleaning staff or in IT and they couldn’t have access to this space.
“There was a real backlash and it took over a month with this constant back and forth, having to explain why we needed it and saying, ‘It’s not for us, it’s for the employees that clean your offices’.”
Ms Delfi said: “There was a sense that if a Muslim did anything it was ‘provocation’, when actually we are just living our life.”
They said it had been hard sitting in meetings with MEPs from some of the parliament’s most right-wing groups.
“They were really, really pleasant to us but when you walk out you realise they are the same people who describe Muslims as a disease,” Ms Alagha said.
The pair said it had been very difficult walking around the corridors of parliament where people would stare at them.
Although, unlike France, it is not illegal to wear religious symbols in public places the hijab is rarely seen in public life in Brussels.
Ms Delfi said: “You could see people thinking ‘Oh, these aren’t cleaners, they are working in these offices’.”
Both think the loss of the UK’s MEPs will be negative for diversity, despite public pledges by the EU to tackle racism and Islamophobia.
“UK MEPs are braver. They are leading the charge on minority issues that other parties don’t want to be seen to care about or approach too much,” Ms Delfi said.
Ms Delfi, who is from west London, and Ms Alagha, from Dublin, said that despite loving their time in the European Parliament, there was a sense of relief at returning home.
“I feel like we offend people walking up and down these corridors, it feels like a political statement in itself,” Ms Alagha said.
“It was a privilege to come here but I always knew I would be returning to Ireland where the hijab doesn’t feel like a barrier – and it shouldn’t.”
She added: “Diversity here is restricted to the cleaning staff – you need to get people out of the kitchen, out of the laundry rooms and into plenary, on panels and making decisions.”
Many staff members said the EU Parliament’s higher salaries and straightforward application system made it more accessible than Westminster.
Connor Allen, from Manchester, spent three years with the Liberal Democrats having only ever wanted to work in Brussels.
“This has been completely cut off for me,” he said.
“When I arrived here the Brexit vote had just happened and since then you see all the MEPs from different delegations and they crack on with their committee work and their parliamentary work and I never had that.
“I’ve always been dashing about, completely focused on Brexit.”
The 28-year-old thinks the loss of opportunity in Brussels will mean a loss of talent and experience in Westminster: “The things you learn here are incredible.
“It’s so wide-ranging, you’re focused on policy and how it affects lives, you’re speaking with people from so many different perspectives that you learn to look at things broadly.”
Rose Birchard, 25, from Glasgow, thinks the fairer wages from the EU Parliament makes it more accessible to those from poorer backgrounds.
Staffers in Brussels can expect more than 2,000 euros per month after tax, compared to entry level jobs in Westminster that start at around £23,000.
“You get paid a lot more here for political work than you do in Westminster, in terms of attracting talent,” she said.
“The parliamentary system is really not good in terms of salary, especially for someone who’s coming from outside of London in trying to pay a deposit.”
She acknowledged that the majority of staffers do come from middle class backgrounds but said the system was fairer than in London.
“In Westminster it’s low paid work but it’s not done by working class people.”
Ms Birchard, who has no job to go to on Monday, said: “I didn’t expect it but on Wednesday night I just found myself in floods of tears as we sang Auld Lang Syne.”