Brexit, Brussels and Henderson's Relish: Sheffield MEP says farewell to the EU
“There’s a case with five bottles of Hendos here!” Shaffaq Mohammed - Sheffield councillor and Yorkshire MEP - yells out to someone in the background as he does a phone interview from Brussels.
He’s handing out leaving presents on his last day at the European Parliament, doling out Henderson’s Relish, Yorkshire puddings and Yorkshire tea to EU colleagues and calling salutations like a belated Father Christmas.
Shaffaq has spent just seven months as an MEP but with the dawn of Brexit, will return to his other day job as Leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats.
Not that he ever really left Sheffield duties. He’s lived in Brussels Monday to Friday but has spent his weekends doing youth work in Tinsley and councillor commitments in Ecclesall.
“It has been emotional and passionate and I am sad we are leaving but we are going out with a bang. I’m not going to be sitting in a corner sulking,” he says.
“Sheffield, Leeds and York universities have a White Rose Consortium, which is a lobby group, and they are getting my Yorkshire flag. I’m not going to bring things home apart from my clothes, which I’m boxing up.”
He leaves on Saturday and is already talking about next week’s full council. “I never really let go of the council, I’ve had all the emails and spoken to officers from here and done casework at weekends.”
His enthusiasm, energy and sense of humour haven’t been dampened by the austere setting of Parliament.
“People comment on my funny English accent,” he laughs. “They say we don’t understand 20 per cent of what you say so we have to concentrate but you get to the point very quickly.
“I say ‘nah then’ and they say whatever does that mean? There’s also been some ‘bloody’ and ‘chuffing’ used but the trick is to do it with a smile.”
Won’t the Town Hall seem stifling for an opposition councillor after the European stage?
“Sheffield won’t feel small because I’ve made contacts with people across the world.
“When does a lad from Tinsley get to rub shoulders with these people? You have to pinch yourself.”
The final farewell and the future
Shaffaq teamed up with fellow MEP, and former Sheffield Lord Mayor, Magid Magid for a final photo. The pair are holding an EU flag with the words “United in Diversity”.
“We held the scarf aloft while we sang Auld Lang Syne - some of which was in French - and it was very different from the farewell by Farage’s MEPs.
“It’s been incredible. I was chosen out of 750 people to give a resolution, which is a big thing to do, and I’ve been championing women’s rights and equality.
“I’ve played a very active role as men need to be the champions for women. I’ve also been involved in culture and creativity which has been exciting.”
He’s met former Prime Ministers from across Europe and visited Nairobi as part of a United Nations conference - he visited a market and bought a traditional Kenyan shirt to wear to a meeting to show respect.
A vocal Remainer, he says his mission now is to give young people a love for Europe.
“A lot of university students come over here and learn a language. I work with youth services and some people don’t see what the point is of Europe, or how it benefits us, and we need to explain that, especially to young people.
“I want working class kids to have the chance, through apprenticeships, to come across here and learn a language so once they go back they say to their parents Europe is not as bad as we are told. That is my big campaign. I have so many ideas and want to look at what we can do.”