Fourteen months after our last lobby in Parliament, nearly two and a half years since the referendum and a mere hundred and forty-four days before Brexit, British in Europe and our friends the3million returned to Westminster on November 5 to convince British politicians that the lives of five million people should not be treated as bargaining chips and that the present (albeit deficient) Withdrawal Agreement should be ring-fenced to give us some kind of certainty about our futures.
We gathered in Parliament Square to form a human chain to Downing Street. There, representatives of the3million, UNISON and BiE’s Jane Golding and Kalba Meadows handed in a letter (read here) for Theresa May. Afterwards, Jane confessed her satisfaction at rapping the prime-ministerial doorknocker though predictably Mrs May failed to appear. Only the Number 10 cat, out taking his morning constitutional, greeted the petitioners, showing a sangfroid lacking amongst the human members of his household.
Back in Parliament Square there were speeches from a succession of Europeans in the UK and Britons in Europe, all highligthing the human cost paid by those of us unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire of the Brexit negotiations. Both BiE’s co-chairs, Jane Golding and Fiona Godfrey, stressed once more the urgent need to ring-fence and strengthen the Withdrawal Agreement to include our current freedom of movement.
After a very long queue, we entered the august halls of the Palace of Westminster. In an oak-panelled committee room, rousing speeches were made by some of the politicians who have supported us all the way: the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, the LibDem’s Ed Davey, Labour’s Paul Blomfield, the SNP’s Stuart McDonald and the Tory rebel Dominic Grieve. In her speech, Jane Golding described the crescendo of uncertainty affecting Britons in Europe as these last-chance negotiations falter. She examined the different scenarios that could affect British citizens in the EU: a bad deal which takes away our rights to move around the single market and the loss of all political rights; no deal which would send us into a legal limbo with unforeseeable consequences.
Few MPs turned up to pledge their support to our cause, fifteen compared to the eighty-two signatures in September 2017. But there were mitigating circumstances like bonfire night, the impending recess and an important debate in the House as Labour’s Yvette Cooper grilled Home Office minister Caroline Nokes on government plans to make employers distinguish between established and new EU citizens. Robin Walker, DExEU minister with responsibility for citizens’ rights, also came in to talk to us. He said nothing of substance, but his presence along with the parliamentary question showed that the lobby had made political impact.
Until the negotiations unravel and the ratification process in both Westminster and the European Parliament is finished it will be impossible to assess what the3million and British in Europe have achieved with our lobbying. But it is clear that, without our constant pressure over the last two years, citizens’ rights would be in a much worse place than they are now. So having gone the Last Mile let’s lobby hard over the last furlong, the last yard, the last inch of this nightmare called Brexit. To be able to do this we need more participation and donations from our members — please volunteer and give what you can.
WORDS: Michael Harris