Brexit:  The next steps for this activist

Working with grassroots organisations like Ely for Europe and the European Movement is one way of tackling a problem like Brexit. It’s helped me to become better informed on the issues and to participate in the protest against the inanity that is Brexit. While I’ve had the honour and pleasure of Co-Chairing Ely for Europe over the past two years, I’m now stepping down from my chairing post. I’ll still be involved with the group and on their committee. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of volunteering it’s that the helm has to be passed around from time to time to keep others involved and to ensure the group doesn’t become a clique.

So, what now? In a matter of weeks, the big decisions concerning Brexit will be made, whether it’s how we’re going to leave the EU or if battle-weary politicians seek to save face by implementing a people’s vote. Much of this will be in parliament’s hands. This leaves me with the feeling that a lot of my work has been done on the Brexit front.

I’ve been getting more involved with local politics and the workings of the local councils – in Ely, we have city, district and county levels. I’ve been somewhat involved in the past, but stayed on the fringes. My willingness to plunge in – if I’m not mixing my metaphors – has come from a sense of hopelessness at the national level. In Britain, our politicians have let us down. They aggressively spout forth on the ‘will of the people’ but seem blind to the majority of polls and surveys over the past two years showing that most people in Britain do not wish to leave the European Union. Before that, there were austerity measures and the growing gap between rich and poor. Anyone who has been following British politics will tell you that these ills are entangled in party politics and not in the best interest of the country. That is, we’re not talking about competing ideologies – we’re talking power games.

Last night I was having drinks with friends from America and South Africa. International travellers, broadsheet readers – yes, I know, the chattering classes. Our consensus:  Britain was turning into another Italy. The political sway of Nigel Farage, the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, the bumbling incompetence of Boris Johnson and Therese May are paralleled by Berlusconi, Matteo Salvini and so on. Britain, like Italy, has become a laughing stock. But what makes Italy work, and has kept it working since the war despite political chaos at the top, has been local governments and concerned citizens. With that thought in mind, I take my next steps.

A week in the life of a pro-Europe activist

Saturday: Spent one and a half hours in bitterly cold Ely Market Square working at the Liberal-Democrats’ Exit-Brexit market stall. One passer-by screamed at us, once he was far enough away to avoid conversation “The majority voted!” Another man blames the EU for Eastern European workers. I briefly told him how Britain invited Eastern Europeans here in 2004 and that other EU countries have different immigration policies – but I stopped myself. I’m grateful Eastern Europeans are here working on our farms and in our hospitals, making our country culturally richer. The man continued to say that because of the EU he can no longer go to his local pub.  At that point, I gave up and stepped away.

Sunday: Too cold to go out. Stayed indoors and wrote my blog about hearing Lord Adonis addressing Brexit issues earlier that week at a town hall meeting in Peterborough.

Monday: Ely for Europe co-chair Virginie stopped by with Open Britain and European Movement surveys. We discussed a strategy for getting our members to fill them in and get people they know to fill them. With hostilities in the post-referendum air, we can’t expect people to knock on strangers’ doors.

Tuesday: Sent an email to MP Lucy Frazer about the debate on how Brexit will impact the NHS in Parliament scheduled for Thursday. Urged her participation. Started following Lord Adonis on Twitter.

Wednesday: Signed online government petition demanding that the Referendum vote be made null and void due to illegal activities and influence surrounding Cambridge Analytica. A long shot, but worth a try. At least the act of signing the petition felt good.

Thursday: Attended a Q+A session hosted by Ely for Europe with MEP Alex Mayer. Met more pro-Europe supporters, mostly from Labour. Left the event thinking that maybe it’s not a matter of hard Brexit or soft Brexit. It might be a symbolic Brexit that does the trick. In March 2019, British MEPs leave Brussels (and lose their jobs) and the Union Jack is lowered. With the new passports, these gestures might be enough for the Brexiters. Other issues to do with trade, borders, funded research and so on could remain in limbo for years as people in the EU and Britain work around them, effectively remaining linked.

Friday: Learned that 15 cross-party MPs stood up in Parliament to debate how Brexit will impact our NHS – none of them was MP Lucy Frazer. No evidence that she was even there.  Engaged in stealth activism by delivering pro-Europe flyers from the Lib-Dems and the European Movement to unsuspecting letterboxes. Very satisfying and less angering than working market stalls.

Saturday (in France, a week is 8 days): Attended Exit Brexit march in Ipswich. Excellent turnout with pro-Europe groups from across East Anglia. On the train returning to Ely, while reading The New European, I looked up a few times at the flat landscapes, the farms, the villages and wondered what the future holds.