Founded in 1977, the British American Parliamentary Group (BAPG) Project is an annual 10-day program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the British Parliament and Meridian International Center that introduces newly elected British Members of Parliament to the American political and party system.
Bound together by a unique shared history, the U.S. and U.K. have established a deeply-rooted “Special Relationship” since the mid-twentieth century that reflects an unparalleled level of cooperation between world powers today. Through numerous military and political conflicts, U.S.-U.K. relations have remained defined by a strong alliance in political, economic and foreign affairs. Due to this important bilateral partnership, exchanges that serve to enhance mutual understanding between leaders of both nations are especially valuable. The meetings and local activities experienced by this year’s group of visiting MPs reflect the BAPG’s primary goal, which is to strengthen diplomatic relationships and establish an understanding between Members of Parliament in the U.K. and Members of Congress in the U.S. This year, the BAPG Project welcomed four Conservative Party MP’s (Alan Mak, Andrea Jenkyns, James Heappey, John Glen) and four Labour Party MP’s (Chris Matheson, Susan Elan Jones, Angela Rayner, Christina Rees) to the U.S. for an engaging professional exchange program.
As a summer intern for the Professional Exchanges Division here at Meridian International Center, I had the unique opportunity to work hands-on with this year’s MPs during their week-long visit to Washington, D.C. In particular, I was tasked with coordinating meetings with U.S. Congressional counterparts on Capitol Hill. Over the course of two days, the Parliamentarians met individually and in groups with over 35 Congress members. The meetings were not only productive in establishing relationships between the MPs and their Congressional counterparts, but also provided the MPs with an opportunity to understand the role and organization of Congress. Each participant was also able to engage in discussions regarding current domestic and foreign policy issues faced in both the U.S. and the U.K. today.
— Meridian Intl Center (@MeridianIntl) July 31, 2015
During the course of this program, I also had the opportunity to assist Meridian program team members by ensuring that the Parliamentarians were able to conduct weekend shadowing with selected Members of Congress in their home districts. From July 24th to the 26th, the Parliamentarians joined their U.S. Congressional peers at local county fairs, baseball games, district offices, and more. Their knowledge and appreciation of American culture deepened as they toured iconic cultural sights, engaged with constituents at local events, and spent time with community leaders who proudly and eagerly represented their hometowns. Clearly understanding the importance of home hospitality, Congressional hosts took to social media to show their excitement in having a chance to enhance a Member of Parliament’s understanding of the American political system on the state and local levels:
Representative Robert Aderholt with John Glen MP in Alabama:
“It was a great pleasure to show British Parliament Member John Glen the great view from the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge over the weekend.”
Andrea Jenkyns and Angela Rayner MPs enjoying a helicopter ride with Representative Paul Gosar in Arizona:
Representative Steve Russell of Oklahoma had this to say about his time with Susan Jones MP:
“I was honored to be asked to host Susan Jones MP for the weekend. She is a leading member of the Labour Party, and a great advocate for veterans of the military…it was a pleasure to tour Devon tower and the Murrah Memorial and Museum together. Throughout the day we got to talk about our varied and many energy resources, being able to see Oklahoma and the interior of the United States, and of course eating great Oklahoma steaks.”
Representative Rodney Davis with Alan Mak MP at Christian County Agricultural Fair in Illinois:
Representative Ander Crenshaw with James Heappey MP in Florida:
— Ander Crenshaw (@AnderCrenshaw) July 27, 2015
After their busy weekends in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida and Illinois, the MPs reconvened in Boston to discuss what they learned about U.S. pluralism and regional diversity. While there, the group participated in local cultural activities, and continued to learn about the impact of academic and political advocacy groups in shaping U.S. legislature. The program concluded with a sail around Boston Harbor, with the majority of the group flying home to the United Kingdom shortly afterwards.
Assisting with the coordination of such a venerable program was a great pleasure, and I am grateful to Meridian International Center for providing me with the opportunity to engage so closely with distinguished, impactful leaders. During the time that I spent with the MPs in Washington, D.C., I not only deepened my understanding of the issues surrounding domestic and foreign policy, but also shared laughs, personal stories and great memories with wonderful people. I am positive that as alumni of this program, these leaders will only go on to better impact our world with their skills and strengths.