On Saturday, I and my family joined thousands of people in Parliament Square after the march along Whitehall. A multitude of voices calling for A People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. The afternoon was balmy, the atmosphere lively, the placards imaginative. And, as my fifteen-year-old daughter pointed out, masses of people stood together all sharing the same belief – that Brexit will be a disaster for our country.
She too is gutted about us leaving the EU, and this was her first ever protest. Covered in stickers, she was caught up in the fervour of the crowd, cheering as Tony Robinson and Vince Cable thumped home their arguments. These, we all know well… that there is government disarray … that we are no closer to a deal … that new facts have emerged about the costs and complexity of Brexit… that the Irish border … (well the penny dropped late on that one, didn’t it?)
Folk had turned out from all over the country and the coaches lined the back streets. Couples, groups, and many families with small children – beside us one boy, no older than five, was punching the air in true revolutionary style. And a lone mother, baby in a sling at her chest, toddler in a rucksack on her back – now that is commitment to the cause.
What struck me was the vast number of elderly people, waving blue flags, sporting the yellow ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ stickers. Perhaps they can remember that the EU was created to secure peace. Six countries joining forces to keep tabs on Germany’s coal and steel production, to ensure it served reconstruction and not armaments. One of the most moving speeches was by a 99-year-old Brigadier. He remembered the war.
I don’t, but I am European to the core. I worked for the European Commission in Brussels for many years, and when I’m asked about Brexit, my heart races and yet my tongue is tied – where to start? Well, with peace. A peace maintained by two generations of intrinsic ties, of living in each other’s pockets. Why would we risk assuming that conflict with another European nation is a fanciful notion?
In her fabulous speech, Caroline Lucas spoke of forty plus years of travelling, working, studying, living – and loving in Europe. Who hasn’t experienced at least one of these? Our tourist spots, Spain, Greece, Portugal, were all developed with EU Funds. The Algarve was unrecognisable as the haven it now is, before Europe pumped in its millions.
So much of that EU funding will soon be lost to us. For research and development, for small businesses, for cooperation across most realms of human activity. I worked on EU regional development programmes, and back then the canny UK received the lion’s share of these funds. Swathes of our infrastructure; roads, bridges, airports, railway stations – hotels even, have been built on the back of EU funding.
And as for trade, well it’s sheer madness to discard a free market of 500 million people.
There may still be a glimmer of hope to stop Brexit. A People’s Vote at the end of the process would give us all a final say. You can sign the petition here: peoples-vote.uk
Saturday’s protest won’t be my daughter’s last, that’s for sure.