As MEP, Howitt represented the East of England since 1994. He held the titles of Co-President of the All-Party Disability Rights Group of MEPs and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs for both British Labour and for the grouping of all centre-left MEPs in the European Parliament.
Using the fundamental principles of unity and solidarity from the trade union and Labour movement, Howitt has been able to make a difference in the European Parliament. He was unwavering in his support for the UN and international institutions, putting the case for peace and development in the Middle East and across the world. His work supporting human rights and workers rights saw him involved in many committees and debates.
Howitt was also substitute on many committees in his years at the European Parliament including the Committee on Development and Cooperation; Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and Industrial Policy; Subcommittee on Human Rights; Committee on Employment and Social Affairs; the temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners; Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee; Subcommittee on Security and Defence; Committee on Legal Affairs; Delegation for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly; Delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia; Delegation for relations with Afghanistan and Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.
Howitt helped drive European Union support for mandatory social, environmental and human rights reporting by business, starting from an initial resolution as long ago as 1999, and in the context of three successive reports on what has become widely known in business circles as the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
In 2012 Howitt helped to negotiate funding from the European Union totalling GBP 22 million to help finance food banks in the UK. Unfortunately, in 2013 the UK government refused to accept the funds, arguing that this much-needed help for food-banks would be a national responsibility, even though the reality was that they had no intention of providing government assistance. Howitt suggested the only conclusion to be made by this particular stance was that Conservative anti-European ideology was being put before the needs of the most deprived and destitute in the UK.
Howitt was involved in consultations on barriers to long term and sustainable investment. This included visits outside Europe such as Benefit Corporations in California and companies in Asia where long-termism is already rooted to a far greater extent than elsewhere. As a result of this work European Commission President Juncker called for the establishment of an expert group to develop a comprehensive European strategy on sustainable finance.
Howitt was one of many who got Europe to sign up to a human rights convention for the first time, and to do so for people with disabilities.
Howitt worked for peace and human rights in Colombia when Socialist and Democrat Group Foreign Affairs Spokesperson in the European Parliament and Vice-President of Justice for Colombia. Howitt took part in secret peace talks which should secure an end to the 30 year civil war there.
There is an EU proposal on the table to require transparency from the biggest extractive industries, together with a new proposal on non-financial disclosure for businesses in all sectors. Howitt and others were in detailed discussions with the European Commission and other stakeholders on the detail of what the proposal would encompass.
After the UK referendum result in June 2016, Howitt knew that his job as an MEP would come to an end in March 2019 due to Brexit. In his resignation speech, Howitt apologised for Brexit, saying he would continue to argue for Europe and looks forward to the day the UK returns to the European Union as a member state.