Passionate anti-Brexit campaigners assembled outside the EU Council meeting on Thursday (17 October), demanding a second referendum on the draft deal negotiated by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and calling for the UK to remain in the European Union.
Pro-Europeans, some dressed as the ‘Incredible Sulk’ and Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg look-alikes, parodied the promises of Brexiteer politicians, which some condemned as “brazen lies”. The mood was defiant, even as EU leaders just a few hundred metres away were discussing Johnson’s last-minute accord with the European Commission. Many of the participants were British citizens who have lived in Belgium for years but now look forward to an uncertain future.
“No form of Brexit will make us better off, safer or freer,” declared Naomi Smith, chief executive of the Best for Britain campaign group founded by Gina Miller, which organised the event together with Pro-Europa. “This pathetic deal is unlikely to pass through the Houses of Parliament.” She called on the EU to allow more time for a second referendum to take place. “The majority of the UK electorate are now Remainers,” she insisted. “We speak for millions of British people when we say we want to stay in Europe.”
Laura Shields, representing ‘British in Europe’ talked about the 5 million UK citizens living in the EU and Europeans in the UK. She condemned a British government announcement that health care for British citizens living in EU will only be funded for six months after Brexit and highlighted individual cases of elderly cancer sufferers in Spain and elsewhere. “The UK is abdicating any moral or legal responsibility for the most vulnerable people,” she protested.
Nicky James, a UK citizen living in the Netherlands, came close to tears as she spoke of the frustration that led her to set up the ‘Final Say For All’ Foundation. Holland does not allow dual nationality, she explained, but with a Dutch husband in poor health and elderly parents in the UK, she fears losing the right to return to Britain. “Many of us were denied a vote in 2016 on something that is going to impact our lives in such a huge way. There are millions of stories like mine. We are fighting for a final say for all 5 million of us.”
Individual testimonies were coupled with speeches by politicians, including Alessandro Fusacchia, who represents Italians abroad in Rome’s Chamber of Deputies. “You are not alone, and we are trying to mobilise Italians in the UK,” he told anti-Brexit demonstrators. “We are trying to send a message that Brexit will be very bad news also for Italians in Italy.”
Richard Corbett, leader of the Labour MEPs in the European Parliament, insisted that the proposed deal was not what Britons voted for in the 2016 referendum. “We have a minority government in Britain. It’s right to take any deal back to the public, and we will be campaigning to stay in the EU.”