Ed Miliband's Commons tribute to Nelson Mandela: full text

"His extraordinary life calls on us all to keep on trying. For nobler ideals, higher purposes and for a bigger and not a smaller politics."

Mr Speaker, today we remember the incomparable life of Nelson Mandela.

This House traditionally gathers to pay tribute to those who have led our country.

It is unusual for us to meet to honour the leader of another.

Why was it so essential that we should commemorate the life of President Mandela in this way?

For simple reasons.

He is an enduring and unique symbol of courage, hope and the fight against injustice.

He teaches us the power of forgiveness, showing no bitterness towards his captors.

Just the love of a country that could be so much better if all of its people could be free.

And he demonstrates even to the most sceptical, the power of people and politics to change our world.

That is why we gather here today.

So on behalf of my Party, I send the deepest condolences to his widow Graca Machel, the Mandela family and all of the people of South Africa.

We mourn with them.

Today is an opportunity to remember the extraordinary story of Nelson Mandela’s life.

He led a movement - the ANC - that liberated his country.

He endured the suffering and sacrifice of 27 years in prison.

A son unable to attend his mother’s funeral.

A father unable to attend his son’s.

But in the face of such oppression his spirit never bent or broke.

Offered the chance of release in 1985, after more than 20 years in jail, on the condition he gave up the armed struggle, he refused.

“I cannot sell my birthright nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of my people to be free”, he said.

We honour him too because of the remarkable person the world found him to be after he walked out of prison in 1990, in those scenes we still remember today.

As his old comrade, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “suffering can embitter its victims but equally it can ennoble the sufferer.”

There can be nothing more noble than determining not to seek revenge on your oppressors but to seek reconciliation with them.

He truly was, as Archbishop Tutu said, an “icon of magnanimity”.

That is why he became not just the leader of a struggle but truly can be described as the father of a nation.

As we have seen in the tributes and emotion that he has inspired since his death in the black and the white communities in South Africa.

And we honour him too because for him the struggle against injustice was a story that never ended.

Having been an activist who became a President, he was a President who became an activist once again.

Campaigning on causes from debt relief to HIV/AIDS to the war in Iraq.

And we honour somebody too who wore his extraordinary heroism with the utmost humility.

A year after he gave up the Presidency, he came to the Labour Party Conference and described himself as “an unemployed pensioner with a criminal record.”

He famously said to Desmond Tutu who teased him for his taste in gaudy shirts, “it is pretty thick coming from a man who wears a dress in public.”

His empathy led him to seek out not the most famous person in the room but the least.

And his warmth made every person he met walk taller.

So we honour a man who showed the true meaning of struggle, courage, generosity and humanity.

But we gather here in our Parliament, in Britain, also to recognise that the history of our country was bound up with his struggle.

In a spirit of truth and reconciliation: South Africa was, after all, once a British colony.

But later Britain would become in Nelson Mandela’s own words “the second headquarters of our movement in exile.”

The Prime Minister and I and thousands of others went to sign the condolence book at South Africa House on Friday.

But it is easy to forget now that South Africa House was not always such a welcoming place for opponents of apartheid.

So we should also remember today the hundreds of thousands of people who were the anti-apartheid movement in Britain.

The people who stood month after month, year after year, on the steps of that embassy, when the cause seemed utterly futile.

The churches, trade unions, the campaigners who marched, who supported the struggle financially, culturally and in so many other ways.

The people who refused to buy South African produce and supported the call for sanctions.

People whose names we do not know from all over Britain who were part of that struggle.

As well as those who will be etched in history, including the leaders of the movement who found sanctuary in Britain, like Ruth First, Joe Slovo and others.

And, if the House will allow me, those in my own party who played such an important role, like Bob Hughes, now in the House of Lords, my Right Hon Friend the Member for Neath and so many more.

It may seem odd to a younger generation that apartheid survived as long as it did, given that now it seems to have been universally reviled the world over.

But of course, the truth and the history is very different.

The cause was highly unfashionable.

Often considered dangerous by those in authority and opposed by those in government.

The Prime Minister was right a few years ago to acknowledge the history.

It is in the spirit of what Nelson Mandela taught us, to acknowledge the truth about the past and without rancour to welcome the change that has come to pass.

But also to honour his legacy by acknowledging that in every country, including our own, the battle against racial injustice still needs to be won.

So we come here to honour the man, to acknowledge our history, and also for one final reason.

To recognise and uphold the universal values for which Nelson Mandela stood.

The dignity of every person, whatever their colour or creed.

Values of tolerance and respect for all.

And justice for all people, wherever they may live and whatever oppression they may face.

Nelson Mandela himself said: 'I am not a saint, I am a sinner who keeps on trying'.

His extraordinary life calls on us all to keep on trying.

For nobler ideals, higher purposes and for a bigger and not a smaller politics.

Inspired by his example and the movement he led.

We mourn his loss.

We give thanks for his life.

And we honour his legacy.

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.