On the campaign trail to London and Brussels: 30th April – 5 May 2018

Sitting on the Ferry from the Hook of Holland back to Harwich I had time to reflect on a very busy and successful week campaigning for FSFA.

On Monday 30 April, which seems like ages ago now, I picked Nicky up from Colchester and drove us to Stratford to catch the tube to London. We were attending the protest in Parliament Square during the Lords’ debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, including giving a meaningful vote in Parliament to include a Remain option, and for Parliament to provide for a referendum on Brexit terms.

The weather was awful  –  wet, cold and windy  –   but the protesters were in great spirits and fine voice. One of the best things about these events is meeting and connecting with people you only usually see or interact with on the internet. It comes as a relief to find they are the same wonderful people they are online

The protest had a wonderful rhythm to it. Chants rising up then dying, with random, deafeningly startling shouts of ‘STOP BREXIT!’ emanating from Steve from SODEM, mimicked quite valiantly but never quite so deafeningly by others, myself included. Then sporadic cheering that followed supportive hoots from what seemed, in the main, to be red London bus drivers and white van men.  (Yes – white van men! I was happy to see that their responses were contrary to their stereotypical image).

The camaraderie was, as always, a thing to behold: good humour and tolerance valiantly suppressing anger beneath the surface. It was a very civilized demonstration, with people policing their own behaviour and giving consideration to others (city workers, tourists etc.).  Perhaps this is why we are so easily ignored, especially by the press.

Peter Cook and Madelena Kay (aka EU Supergirl) entertained the crowds with their music, (Insert video) and a visit from Femi (@Femi_Sorry) brought great excitement and many smiles. We were then paid a visit by Lord Rennard, informing us that the amendment to make a ‘meaningful vote’ by Parliament legally binding had been passed with a large majority. The wind, rain and cold all seemed worth the discomfort.

Of course, this protest alone may have had little effect on that outcome but, as part of the wider effort of the Remain movement, you can bet your bottom dollar, or pound or even euro, that our presence is significant.

After the protest, it was off to the pub for some congratulatory drinks and a chance to chat with members of our own twitter circle, before heading our separate ways. As it turns out, the separate way Nicky and I took was to Harwich, over to Holland, and then onto Brussels where Steve (@GuitarMoog) had offered to put us up. It was a real fillip to spend time with Steve, his wife and their beautiful son. He took no money for our accommodation, tried to pay for our parking, and bought what seemed like the majority of the drinks. We are truly grateful to you and yours, Steve.

Friday night on the 4 May saw us invited to a meeting of a resurgence of the Pro Europa group who were discussing ways to convey the true, harmful consequences of Brexit to those best placed to stop it. It was a lively, informed (well, by everyone bar me) and, at times, somewhat heated discussion that went on for some time. As one of the protagonists stated, we were stopping Brexit one beer at a time! It truly felt like one of those revolutionary meetings in a back bar where the future of nations were planned, except this time, the ‘revolutionaries’ were –  a short time ago – the mainstream. Brexit really seems to have turned everything on its head. Perhaps we have been slow to react, perhaps stunned, but we are waking up now and we need to, fast!

The Pro Europa group has the structure, expertise and gravitas to make a real difference where it matters most, and we wish them best in their endeavours. We resolve to support them in any way we can. No foundation money was harmed in any way in the making of this meeting!)

Then it was onto Saturday, and EU Open Day at the official buildings in Brussels.
We donned our t- shirts, carried our post cards and leaflets, and set out to win the hearts and minds of mainland Europe with our stories. Acting like chuggers (charity muggers) and, on rare occasions received like them, we assaulted the good people of Europe attending this day of celebration of the EU. It was a real eye opener for many when we explained the plight of the three million EU citizens in the UK and the Brits abroad who had no vote in the referendum, and therefore no say in their own future. We received nothing but empathy and support, along with a resolve from all those we engaged with, to email their own MEPs asking them to protect the rights of citizens on both sides of the channel.

I know we were in the capitol of Europe, I know we were a beautifully cosmopolitan and tolerant city, so the love and concern shown by our European brothers and sisters towards our plight was heart warming. Many U.K. citizens would benefit greatly by spending some time in Brussels but, more importantly, amongst these supportive people.

We then went into the parliament building for a couple of PR shots and an opportunity for me to ask a direct question of the EU parliament with regard to autonomously protecting citizens’ rights and forcing the U.K. government’s hand. I won’t receive the reply just yet and I’m not holding my breath but hey, you never know!

While there, we also met and spoke to MEP Catherine Bearder. The commitment and support from these often maligned politicians never fails to surprise me (except for the kippers, of course). They really are on our side, but based in mainland Europe, they’re often restricted in how much they can do.

Following this, we moved to the other two locations and continued to pester, harangue and inform the European public. It was a beautiful day, we’d met many wonderful people, and we were treated impeccably by them all. But after seven hours, we were ready to relax with a couple of beers and a game of cubs in the park with Steve and his friends.

For me, this trip was over, but please spare a thought for Nicky, who I left in Holland with a dodgy starter motor, and who had to get home, pack and head off to Berlin on Tuesday for the Women’s March for Europe.

This campaigning can be hard, and it can be tiring, but we only have six months left, so there can be no slacking. Onward and upwards to stopping Brexit, hopefully Nick, one beer at a time!

John Ling