We’re back from Brussels. ‘We’ were a 60 strong group whose members, between us, had birthdates representing every single decade from the 1930s to the 2000s. And we had indeed come from Yorkshire just to say- ‘We’re for ever European’…
…. to ask ‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?’….
.. and to assert…..
We were cheered and moved to be tooted supportively by passing cars, told by streetcleaners, policemen, ice-cream stallholders, bar staff, passport control staff, passers-by that people in mainland Europe want us to stay, welcomed our efforts.
Wednesday was the day when we marched round the European Parliament campus singing and waving our European, Yorkshire and Union flags. It was the day when we toured the parliament building, having a question and answer session with Henry Wasung, British multi-lingual member of staff, and in the absence of our own MEP Richard Corbett, who was in London, with Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London. All of which assured us in our knowledge that only staying in Europe makes sense.
In the afternoon we were centre stage. We were at the Schuman Roundabout, focal point of the buildings of many of the EU institutions. So were members of Brussels Light Opera, Women for Europe, EU super girl and Young European of the Year 2018 Madeleina Kay. And we sang (see above!). Madeleina sang. Various British MEPs came to support us and to speak. Our own Shaffaq Mohammed and Magid Magid made speeches too.
Then it was four o’clock and time to go. Time to load the flags, the posters, the banners into the coach and make our way back to the ship, and to England.
We feel energised, optimistic, ready to plan the next stage of our campaign. Whatever we do, we’ll continue to make it fun and uplifting. No sour faces here.
For a while now, Yorkshire for Europe groups have been getting down to London once a week to support Steve Bray of SODEM, and demonstrate peacefully outside Parliament. Week by week, the Great Yorkshire Songbook has evolved, featuring such memorable numbers as ‘We’re down from Yorkshire just to say…’ to the tune of -what else? ‘On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at’, and ‘Why, why why Theresa?’ to the tune of ‘Delilah’. Cornwall for Europe does much the same, but they have a great tradition of sea shanties to draw on for their songbook (‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?‘).
Adrian from North Yorkshire for Europe threw down the gauntlet to Cornwall. The Great Yorkshire/Cornwall sing-off. Challenge accepted.
On Monday, two coaches arrived in London. One from the north, stuffed not only with Remainers in good voice, but Yorkshire flags by the dozen, European flags, Union flags, placards, and Mark’s tuba. Oh, and seven students from Sheffield University, hitch-hiking to Transylvania for charity, via our demo. And a coach from the south-west, idem, except that they had black-and white Cornwall flags and placards, and a Cornish bagpipe instead of a tuba. And no students.
And outside Parliament, we sang. We soon learnt each other’s songs, and we sang, sang, sang. Alistair Campbell came for a while with his bagpipes. Our MEP Richard Corbett came and joined in, so did Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, and Lib Dem Tom Brake, who brought chocolates too.
Alistair Campbell and bagpipes.
Steve Bray, that stalwart who protests all day and every day, whatever the weather joined in the fun, and was invited to judge the two choirs. ‘52% for one, and 48% for the other!’, suggested some wit in the crowd. Steve was far too polite, and suggested a draw. Team Yorkshire thought that Cornwall had the best tunes, and were more tuneful, but we were LOUDER.
And at 6 o’clock, we followed Steve’s daily tradition. We trooped after him and his mega-megaphone and bellowed People’s Vote slogans as loudly as possible across to the House where members were about their daily business. If you’d been watching the BBC 6 o’clock news at 6.11, you’d have seen us. And again at 10.00. A friend in Cardiff spotted us on the Welsh news.
During the day there were interviews with Norwegian radio and French TV (Arte is doing a full length documentary on Britain and Brexit, and have been filming in the area for 10 days).
Just one more job to do before the long journey home. Get along to the press hub, and be there while Channel Four does its daily interviews on its 7 o’clock news. More flag waving, shouting and singing, and a bit of trespass onto the lawns with a placard by Steve Bray.
We met Londoners, tourists, people from around Europe who’d made England their home and no longer feel as welcomed as they used to. We’ve had our photos taken, had discussions with dozens and dozens of passers-by. Does it make a difference? We don’t know. But we know we brought cheer to so many people who like us, hope that Brexit is not a Done Deal.
Last week, the one at the end of which the long-planned Put it to the People March was due to take place, the Brexit Drama went from bad to worse to excruciating. It seemed a perfect time to go to London and make our views known.
We’d been before of course. Twice. We’d been last June, we members of North Yorkshire for Europe, sharing a coach with protestors from York. We went in October, with a coach of our own. We went again on Saturday, with three coaches, part of a flotilla of 19 from Yorkshire and 200 from the country as a whole.
Here we are arriving, marshalling ourselves.
And here we are singing one of the nineteen songs from the Yorkshire Remoaners’ Songbook. Our signature number is this….
We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say (just to say)
It would be untrue to say we started marching. The crowds were such that we often didn’t move at all, and when we did, we shuffled. We soon got split up, but it was always cheering to see that wherever we looked, there was a Yorkshire flag – the white rose on a blue ground – somewhere in sight.
There were fellow marchers to talk to – the young girl who’d chosen to spend her 13th birthday marching, the elderly Irish woman who’d come over to vent her anger at how Ireland’s particular issues were being sidelined. There were witty posters to admire: there are a few at the end of this post. And more here.
On we went, making the roads on our route totally impassable for passers-by. One hour – two hours – three hours of shuffling – we were still only in Pall Mall. By now the speeches were beginning in Parliament Square on the other side of Trafalgar Square, and we were still nearly a mile away. Never mind.
Drummers struck up, and entirely unbidden, our voices, hundreds strong, spontaneously divided as cantor and antiphon, though the words were the same: ‘Stop Brexit now!’ This little interlude seems to me to be a metaphor for how most Remainers that I know treat one another: cooperatively, in harmony, and with mutual respect.
And then … then we had to go. We had to find our coach, due to depart on the long road back to Yorkshire.
Although we were marching to be given a Final Vote on the Brexit Deal, there’s now equally loud pressure that Parliament should Revoke Article 50. Now.
If you’re a British Citizen, and haven’t done so already, please sign here.
And if you’d like an aeriel view of the whole thing, here you are, thanks to The Guardian. We’re off camera. We didn’t get to the centre of the action.
‘Just walk round the room. Any direction – no, not in a circle.. Just … don’t bump into anyone’
That’s how we began every rehearsal for our improvised drama ‘The Lie of the Land’, which played to a pretty full house in the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough last Monday. Those first minutes of every session provided time to focus and to learn how to use available space.
We brought in stories about Brexit that mattered to us. An ex-Science teacher deplored the ‘brain drain’ and the fact that foreign nationals no longer want to come here to pursue their careers. A mixed race woman observed the casual and less-than-casual racism that the Referendum seems to have legitimised. A deaf member of the group worried about the possibility of arts funding dedicated to people with disabilities being withdrawn. Someone gave vent to his anger on behalf of his children that the British Government has turned its back on the Erasmus programme. A management consultant spoke about his worries that England, perhaps less accessible because of visa restrictions, and no longer part of Team Europe, will become increasingly isolated. I, having spoken about no-longer-welcome long time residents known to me, talked about a much loved Ripon restaurant that has recently closed because it can no longer easily access the European staff on whom it has come to depend. British workers aren’t interested…. And so on.
We worked with these stories in turn, Chucking ideas into the pot, junking some, adapting others, polishing them into short tableaux and vignettes. Mine for instance, had two of us being shown into a restaurant, with staff busy serving relaxed diners. As I told my tale, the staff gradually disappeared, until, as I finished speaking, all the diners found themselves alone in unstaffed premises….
As the Management Consultant finished speaking, a group of us, friendly, cheerful, wrapped in our EU flag, welcomed trading partners sporting the flags of nations from around the globe. The lonely bearer of the Union Flag found herself increasingly ignored, until finally, Mr. America tossed her a raddled and threadbare looking soft-toy chicken.
When the Science teacher spoke, his discourse was regularly interrupted between paragraphs by speaking members of various tableaux. ‘Three years to finish your research? Ah… that could present a problem’. ’I’m vairy sorry, I don’t want to accept ze job. I don’t want to come to ze UK any more’. And finally ‘ Yup. I’ve decided to take that job in Sweden’.
And so we continued till each of our stories had been told.
We’d begun the play though as proud members of the British Empire, sovereignty intact. We came on stage, upright and military, singing a rousing sea shanty ‘A Drop of Nelson’s Blood’, completely overlooking the fact that as we advanced, we were trampling over the body of a slave.
We threw ourselves to the floor to allow the showing of a short stop-motion animation in which Playmobil figures told the early history of the EU, Britain’s membership and the Referendum, after which there was a full-ensemble mime sequence suggesting our individual feelings of loss.
So it went on, with our individual stories interspersed with comic mini-moments when Mr. or Ms. Sensible would try and prevent an ardent Brexiter leaping from a cliff in quest of the Unicorn.
Our finale had our splendid and multi-talented musician Tim declaiming from a megaphone those fake news stories about the EU of which the likes of the Daily Mail is so fond (‘EU bans barmaids from showing cleavage’, ‘EU will force .uk website addresses to become .eu’ etc) , all of which we greeted lustily with ‘No! Really? Bastards!’ before a final vocal surge in which a susurrating murmuring wind was gradually replaced by whisperings which culminated in a vociferous shout for a People’s Vote.
After the interval, some of the troupe took on roles as Shadow Minister for Trade, the very recently appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a German industrialist, a wealthy Brexit backer and so on, for a Question Time in which members of the audience were encouraged to ask genuine questions. It went surprisingly well and authentically.
For those of us who’d not done any drama since we left school, this has been a moving, stimulating and thought-provoking experience. Cathartic too. Perhaps we should have invited Theresa May.
I hope there will be photos later, when we’ve scavenged them from those who were charged with taking some. We were too busy to take any…..
I’ve got two daughters who have the acting gene: who’ve often performed and entertained on stage over the years. Where did they get this gene from? Not me. I was a servant once in a school play, and spoke two whole lines. That’s my Drama CV.
Yet apparently, Malcolm and I will be part of a troupe appearing on stage for one night only at the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough, to perform an improvised drama about … well, what else?… Brexit.
It was Phil’s idea. He’s a professional theatre director, and he’s one of our People’s Vote team. He thought we needed something to entertain the campaigning troops all over North Yorkshire and bring us and a wider public together for something a little different. Adrian, also part of the team, offered practical and technical expertise.
And suddenly … there we were, rehearsing, about a dozen of us. Most of us had never met each other before. No script. No lines. No clear idea where this might go…. yet. This was to be Improvised Theatre. We played games. ‘Think of one thing you like about being part of Europe.’ (Just one?) ‘Now make a statue of it.’ We’ve made more statues, taught our poses to others, worked with them to make vignettes. We’ve played ball games, word games. We’ve told stories about our own experiences of Europe and of the-Brexit-to-be, and with Phil, woven these into scenes and tableaux . We’ve sung a sea shanty, improvised ‘Question Time’. Phil and Adrian persuaded someone to confect a video. All this weekend, we’ll be working solidly to pull everything together. Well, Phil will. He’s got an eye for when there’s a nugget worth mining for, a gem worth polishing.From the latest North Yorkshire for Europe newsletter.
On Saturday morning, we got up at 4.30 a.m. and didn’t get to bed again till 12.30 on Sunday morning. In between, we drove to York; forked out £60 for tickets and travelled in a coach to London where we spent the day marching, before reversing the procedure in the early evening. At our ages – we’re both long past retirement age – you don’t do things like that unless it’s for something really important.
It is. For us, and on behalf of our children and grandchildren, this Brexit Business matters more than almost anything else.
We are members of North Yorkshire for Europe, and joined for the day with York for Europe. We came to London to march and campaign for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal.
Don’t talk to us about the Referendum being the last word on The Will of the People (a barely more than 50% of those who voted changing the course of a nation’s history?). Don’t tell us what The People voted for – nobody exactly knows. Don’t tell us that when companies like Airbus and Siemens warn they may have to leave the UK in the event of a no-deal, that they are simply part of an irresponsible Project Fear. Yes, we are fearful of Brexit: for us, for our families, for those in insecure employment, for those European citizens now resident here who had considered the UK their home.
On arrival in central London, we joined 100, 000 others on a slow two hour march down Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square and Whitehall and into Parliament Square, which completely failed to accommodate us all.
Despite our serious purpose, we had fun. Look at the banners, the flags, the posters, the facepaint and wigs; the young, the old: marching, hobbling, manoeuvring wheelchairs and buggies – you’ll even spot one fellow being carried by Donald Trump (as if …). We enjoyed Mexican cheers (the vocal version of a Mexican wave), bouts of chanting (‘What do we want?’ ‘A People’s Vote!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now!’). We chatted with marchers from Wales, Devon, Germany, Reading, France, Lambeth, Scotland…..
Then speeches. Rousing, energising speeches from the likes of Caroline Lucas MP, Tony Robinson, Vince Cable MP, David Lammy MP. Passionate speeches from a hospital consultant, from the young people of OFOC (Our Future, Our Choice). Video contributions from a WWII veteran and from Chuka Umunna MP. We cheered them all, and at the end, especially the courageous Tory MP Anna Soubry.
OFOC speak …..
… and David Lammy MP ….
…. and finally Anna Soubry MP.
What we want is a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, because apart from a principled few, most MPs are obeying the Whips and toeing the party line, regardless of either their own beliefs, or those of their constituents. If you voted for Brexit, and the government comes up with a good deal for the British people, you have nothing to fear from a People’s Vote. The government will win the day, and we Remoaners will have to shut up.
If you think that, having learned the terms of the Final Deal, the people should have the Final Say, please sign the petition for The People’s Vote. It’s here.
PS. The Daily Express front page on the day of the march….. there are no words…. don’t they read the news?
We don’t do protest marches much. Well, we did when we lived in France, obviously, because protesting is a way of life there. Here? Not so much.
But with Brexit only a year away, and with the intolerable consequences to our economy, our services, our multi-cultural and inclusive way of life becoming daily more apparent, we wanted to join the Leeds March for Europe, arranged in solidarity with events being held in Edinburgh, in Ipswich, in Exeter, in Pontypridd, in Maidenhead, in Ipswich and on the Isle of Wight.
We arrived. We were initially disappointed. There was a van, topped off with May, Johnson, Gove and Farage and a netball pitch sized banner waiting to lead things off, but were there really only enough people present to fill the Headrow in front of the Town Hall?
Well, no as it turned out. We set off with new-found friends from York, but soon dropped back to see the real size of the procession. It went on …. and on. We met people from every political party and none. We met OAPs against Brexit. We met Grannies against Brexit. We met teenagers against Brexit. We joined in chants orchestrated from different parts of the route. We met anti-Brexit groups from Hull, from Kent, from Sheffield, from….all over the place. We were peaceful and good humoured and met surprisingly little heckling.
Back outside the town Hall, it was time for speeches. We heard from politicians from every main party (well, not UKIP….) and cheered them all. We heard from the impassioned and articulate young founders of OFOC! (Our Future, Our Choice) some of whom hadn’t been able to vote in the referendum, but will have to live with its consequences. We heard from Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish nurse who has worked in Britain for 17 years, who has a family here, and who no longer feels welcome. We heard from Elena Remigi, founder of Our Brexit Testimonies, from a young British research scientist who also feels her future threatened, and from Sue Wilson, leader of Bremain in Spain. And we heard from The Big Names. Prof. AC Grayling courteously and respectfully demolished the arguments on the placard held aloft by the sole courageous Brexiteer who had joined the rally. Our own MEP Richard Corbett was as incisive and to the point as ever. And Lord Adonis brought the whole affair to an energising conclusion, working the crowd so that we all agreed, as we began to make our way home, that we each have a responsibility to work towards making sure that the disaster which is Brexit never actually takes place.