Thursday 19th March 2020

It’s great that we can all talk together like this. I've participated in many telephone conference calls before, but never one that involved thirty people. Very impressive. The wonders of modern technology! I was supposed to be in Geneva last week at the UN Human Rights Council, then in Albania this week for the Nowruz – Persian New Year celebrations with our friends in Ashraf 3; then I was meant to be at a meeting in Cairo next week. Instead, I am self-isolating in my farmhouse in the Scottish countryside, conducting all of my meetings by conference calls on my desktop computer, like this. There is no doubt that these are unprecedented times. I can’t remember anything like this and I’m sure very few people can. But in the UK during times of national crisis, we all know how to pull together for the common good and we all know that we will overcome this crisis and emerge at the other end a stronger and more resilient nation. We must thank our NHS doctors and nurses who are on the frontline, fighting this disease.

Typically, there are even jokes being made about the epidemic. A friend of mine said to me that the Coronavirus must have been invented by a woman, because it has led to football being banned, pubs being closed and husbands being forced to stay at home where they can carry out all the jobs and repairs they’ve been avoiding for months! The British appetite to laugh in the face of diversity is a great and noble tradition.

But on a more serious note, it is important that we listen to the experts and do what is necessary to keep ourselves safe. A lot of the advice being given just now is to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. They have shown in China and in South Korea how stringent measures involving social distancing and self-isolation have worked. Both of those countries are now in recovery mode, with the worst of the crisis past. So please listen to the experts.

With Italy, Spain and France in virtual lockdown and Denmark, Poland and many other countries effectively closing their borders, these are extraordinary times. We’ve seen the government effectively closing our airports, forcing millions to remain indoors for extended periods, driving cars, vans and trucks off the streets, banning all but essential public transport, closing schools, cinemas, theatres, bars and restaurants and banning sports, all in the name of national security.

It makes me wonder if the coronavirus epidemic will herald the arrival of a new paradigm in the way the world functions. Maybe the days of extensive foreign travel are over?This must surely be the question echoing down the almost empty corridors of power in Europe. 

I spent fifteen years as a MEP having to travel weekly from my home in Scotland to either Brussels or Strasbourg. When you think about it, it is crazy that almost 800 MEPs and thousands of staff have to travel to Brussels for three weeks every month and Strasbourg for one week; it is a glaring anomaly. When examined against the background of climate change and coronavirus pandemics, it is in fact a bio-security outrage. Why, in this age of burgeoning technology, can much of the EU’s business not be conducted electronically? Is there really a need to fly hundreds of MEPs and staff from 27 countries so that they can spend a few hours sitting in a committee room or plenary chamber in Brussels or Strasbourg, conducting debates that could easily be held remotely on the internet? 

But the Covid 19 coronavirus has shaken Europe to the core, reinforcing the risks we face from our interconnectedness and forcing people to self-isolate and work from home on an unprecedented scale. It has created the ideal opportunity for a major re-think and in the spirit of solidarity with our continental neighbours, it is surely incumbent of the UK to offer guidance?

I would like to thank ILA for organizing this conference call and offering their support to their friends and supporters in this crucial time. You know that they're all volunteers themselves and their families continue to have a very hard time in Iran with the outbreak of this terrible virus but yet, they don't forget their friends here who might be in need of support. So, I think it's a good initiative to be holding these conference calls as a way to support each other and not to be left dealing with this situation alone.

Do you know, in Italy, a new national symbol has appeared: It is a rainbow image with the words ‘‘Tutto andrà bene”, which means everything will be OK. So long as we support each other and work together we will emerge from this crisis as a stronger and more resilient nation.