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©ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK

Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, has the courage to tell powerful men when they are getting things wrong. Her demeanour suggests she finds it more than a moral duty to speak her mind: she takes a wry pleasure in doing so. This may be why her ministerial career has so far been so short: from July 1999 to June 2001 she served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health. But it is also why she has emerged as a parliamentarian of distinction: one of the few on the Labour benches who is able to warn of the deepening crisis within the European Union, and to draw the necessary conclusions. In a recent article in The Times, she dismissed the palliative posturings of Tony Blair and David Cameron, and said: "Britain—and Europe—is coming to a fork in the road . . . We had better start thinking what life outside the EU might look like."

This is an unexpected conclusion for Stuart to reach. She was born in 1956 in the small Bavarian town of Velden, and speaks English with a slight but perceptible German accent. She regards herself as a beneficiary of Europe's freedoms: "When I came to the UK in 1974, I did not need a work permit, had the right of residence and could go to a British university." But her enthusiasm for the EU did not survive her participation as one of two representatives of the UK parliament in the Convention on the Future of Europe, which in 2002-03 sat down to draw up a constitution which would bring the EU's institutions closer to its citizens.  

Stuart soon realised this pious aspiration was not going to be met: "The Convention brought together a self-selected group of the European political elite, many of whom have their eyes on a career at a European level, which is dependent on more and more integration and who see national governments and national parliaments as a distraction. Not once in the 16 months I spent on the Convention did representatives question whether deeper integration is what the people of Europe want." 

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