Bremainers Ask….. Catherine Bearder

Bremainers Ask….. Catherine Bearder

When first married, Catherine spent time in Africa studying wildlife. On her return to Oxford she worked in the voluntary sector: at the local wildlife trust, at the Citizens Advice Bureau and for the National Federation of WIs and Victim Support.

Catherine’s political career began when she became a Parish councillor in Wendlebury, then in Cherwell. She was a parliamentary candidate in the 1997 and 2001 general elections in Banbury and Henley, and then for the European parliamentary elections in 1999 and 2004. She also ran as an Oxfordshire County councillor in 2005. As an active political campaigner, she worked for Dr. Evan Harris, MP in Oxford and was Campaign Director for Britain in Europe in the South East of England.

Elected to the European Parliament in 2009, 2014 and 2019 she served on the Trade, Environmental and Women and Equalities committees. She was an active member of the joint ACP/EU Parliamentary Assembly and was elected by the MEPs as a Quaestor of the Parliament and sitting on the President’s Bureau. Her main focus was environmental protection and fighting the scourge of human trafficking. She was convener of the Cross-party group of Pro European British MEPs during and after the Brexit Referendum and founded the cross-party group MEPs4Wildlife.

Now retired and living in lockdown in Oxford, Catherine remains active in campaigning as a Board member of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, working for the protection of elephants, and for Unlock Democracy, fighting for democratic reform and a written UK constitution.

Helen Jackson: How do you see the Brexit scenario and repercussions affecting life for UK citizens living in EU over the next 5 years?

Adrian Williams: What do you see as the main issues for Brits living in the EU after transition ends, both those with the benefits of the Withdrawal Agreement and those without?

I’ll take these two questions together. Initially there won’t be a lot of difference for those living away from home, the changes will come when their circumstances change, or a piece of non-related  legislation changes. It’s the hidden trip wires that we should all be wary of, as we remember the example of the Windrush victims. For years there was no issue, until they needed to travel, or the government changed the rules.

As the UK leaves the EU, the responsibility for non-native people in each member state becomes the responsibility of each country, no longer an EU issue. So, each country can choose how to treat these ‘migrants’. My guess is that most EU countries won’t initially be vindictive, they are used to dealing with 3rd country nationals and have systems in place, but who knows how that might develop without the protection of European citizenship that Brits had when they made the decision to move. For Europeans in the UK I think it might be trickier. They are now in an entirely new category. Not only have we had problems getting this system sorted, the tech has been tricky, there is still no physical evidence of status (why? It can’t be that difficult!), there are still far too many who don’t realise they must act for themselves and their children, and cut off dates are looming with little publicity. In the first instance we must get that physical evidence of status into their hands or they could face real problems if they travel across borders. We must all be prepared to act to keep this issue in the public eye. Our friends are relying on our support.

Sue and Catherine Bearder MEP

Andrew Hesselden: Should and could more have been done to protect the rights of British citizens with European interests living in the UK (in particular those spending only part of the year in Spain for example, all winter or all summer)?

Absolutely this should have been the case. I was amongst the few very early on calling for a stand-alone agreement for the citizens who would be affected by Brexit. I believe we could have got this, had the British government not been so intransigent. They said they were not using citizens as bargaining chips, but they were. Mrs. May refused to take them out of the deal, a deal by the way which neither she nor any of the Vote Leave teams had any plan for.  This was done for Gibraltar. Why? I think they had very little understanding of the issues, the changes that would happen, how it would change so many parts of the lives of those who had done no more than exercise their right to move and live somewhere else. All they wanted to do was look tough on migration, and given there were no votes in it (as so many had shamefully lost this right), they were happy to ignore the plight of so many. I believe this is something they will regret in time.

Steven Wilson: How long will it take before the UK has a realistic prospect of re-joining the EU, & what needs to happen to facilitate that?

Now this is a lot harder to call! It could be a very long time. After all, why would the EU want the Brits to return soon, we’ve not been the easiest of friends. Certainly, there isn’t a groundswell of demand now to rejoin. However, it might happen very quickly once the enormity of it sinks in, and is felt at home, but I doubt that. But then who knew we could act as we have in the face of a pandemic? Homeless off the streets in days, £billions spent supporting jobs, Parliament even voting on-line. We now know that extraordinary things can happen when the political will is there. What is more likely is that N Ireland will rejoin the Republic of Ireland, then Scotland will reconsider its position. Although even Scotland’s chances of rejoining the EU is problematic until the Catalan issue has been resolved. I am confident that one day the reality of being in a club of friendly trading neighbours will dawn and we will rejoin but I have no idea when that will be.

Michael Soffe: Are you as disappointed as I am with the current policy as announced in September of “Liberal Democrats are to drop the party’s commitment to UK membership of the EU”? Do you see this being changed in the future?

The Liberal Democrats have not dropped the party’s commitment to UK’s membership of the EU, nor our determination to rejoin at some point. What we have decided to do is not campaign actively on this now. Political parties are not single- issue organisations, and all the other problems we face such as education, housing, environment and so many other are as important to campaign on. We cannot neglect these issues. But it does mean we will include campaigning on mitigating the disaster that is Brexit. We will be championing people affected by Brexit, as well as the livelihoods and jobs that we know will be affected. We now recognise that we lost the stop Brexit battle and sadly Brexit has happened. Our policy of commitment to our place in the EU is as firm as it has always been, and as soon as we can see our way back in, you can count on the Lib Dem’s being there to lead the charge.

Lisa Ryan Burton: As a long-time campaigner on human trafficking, what are your feelings on the language coming from Priti Patel in particular, on the UK’s commitment to fight people smugglers? Are they making this a priority, if so in what way or is it all just hyperbole?

I am ashamed that we have sunk so low as to have a Home Secretary who is prepared to send the navy out to stop flimsy boats in the channel, rather than see and address the real issues about why and how people are struggling to find a life that is safe for themselves and their families. This is the politics of ‘The Other’, posturing for a right-wing press and nationalist and as soon as it’s off the front page, Patel will move on. People smugglers are not the problem in themselves, although it is a grubby and abusive trade. What drives people into the arms of traffickers is poverty and conflict. We should be addressing this in a comprehensive way. There is also no legal way to seek asylum outside our shores. The flow of people who want to come to Europe will not be stemmed by putting up barriers, but by building legal routes out of conflict, ending economic instability and welcoming those who bring energy and initiative to a new country.

Estevão Vigne: How can we as residents of European Union countries make our voices heard now that we no longer have MEPs?

Brits living in other EU countries can still be represented by MEPs from their host countries and I am sure that MEPs will listen if they have issues. The pan European political parties also meet and campaign on many issues and this may also be a way for expats to find a voice. 

What is shocking is the fact that Brits outside the UK for more than 15 years have no vote. This is a complete anomaly leaving them in limbo. This we must address. Other nations have MPs for non-residents; there is no reason why we cannot do this in the UK. I am now involved with campaigning for democratic reform in the UK, to get PR, an elected House of Lords and a written constitution for the UK. We are nearer this now than we have been for many years and part of that settlement is how non-resident British people are represented in both the UK government (and in the devolved governments if that is their place of origin).

Many thanks to Catherine for taking part in Bremainers Ask. 

  Bremainers Ask Revisited – Part 4

  Bremainers Ask Revisited – Part 4

Bremain asked former Bremainers Ask commentators to give us their thoughts on where we are now, how they see things moving forward and what we pro-Europeans should be focusing on in the future. This is what they had to say.

Molly Scott Cato MEP

Molly Scott Cato – Former Green Party MEP

I remember arguing during the 2016 referendum campaign that it was impossible to make Brexit a reality without destroying democracy.

At that stage I was not so pessimistic as to think that we had any politicians dangerous enough to trash democracy to achieve their absurd ideological ambition of untrammelled sovereignty. Now I know better. Not just the Internal Markets Bill breaking international law, but also the prorogation of Parliament and the stuffing of the House of Lords with pro-Brexit cronies, show that this government does not respect democratic standards. And they can’t. Because they won the election on a lie that they had an ‘oven-ready Brexit deal’, just as they won the 2016 referendum on a whole pack of lies. Those lies will unravel in January, when the transition period comes to an end, but for a while now most British people have not wanted the Brexit project to go ahead. Confidence that leaving the EU was the right decision for Britain has fallen to an all-time low, with only 39% believing we did the right thing, while 50% think we were wrong to leave (Yougov polling). A democratic government would listen to ‘the will of the people’.

We must not despair, so what are we to do?

The first sign of great hope is the widespread sympathy and affection that we Brits receive right across the EU. I’ve been amazed by the emotional response from European friends and neighbours. Far from the anger and frustration I would have expected there has been compassion and understanding. They have been through their own political disasters and they want to help us out of ours rather than blame us or laugh at us.

And we must make sure that our younger people become Europeans, as we were given the chance to do. As a Green I will always champion the amazing opportunity of freedom of movement, but I know that is a political longshot. But we can continue to fight to stay a part of the Erasmus scheme that allows thousands of young people every year to live in another EU country and is especially important for those from poorer families. We must campaign to keep this chance for our young people to widen their horizons, and it is a campaign we can win.

We have to continue to cooperate on key global issues, with climate at the forefront. It simply makes no sense to play the sovereignty card when some of the most pressing political issues are global issues. Cooperation over sharing technology, sticking to shared targets, and cooperating over energy policy can help keep us close to our European neighbours.

And finally, we can join the key organization that has always stood for closer ties with the EU. I worked with the European Movement during the referendum campaign and am now on the national council. Having been founded by Winston Churchill in 1949 it has the track-record and authority to act as the key membership organization for those of us who want to keep the closest possible relationship with Europe.

Although times are tough, we know that Brexit as promised cannot be delivered. We need to calmly and clearly point that out, as the wheels come off in the coming months. And we all need to stand up for democracy and make sure that the UK’s political system is reinforced so that a gang of crooks and truth twisters can never again hijack our country for their own ends.

Ian Dunt – Editor

We’re in a strange place right now – an odd little half-way house. 2020 has seen us leave the EU legally without leaving it practically. We’ve lost the ability to stop Brexit, which motivated many of us in the period between the referendum vote and the 2019 general election, but we’re yet to see the real world effects of the project.

Ian Dunt

This period will not last forever. On January 1st 2021, the next stage of the Brexit story begins. It is when reality collides with dreams. Every other time this has happened – when Theresa May outlined the backstop, for instance – the Leave lobby lost its mind. We can expect that to play out again in the months to come.

Regardless of whether there is a deal or not, we are about to see the reintroduction of border controls to a region which had grown used to life without them. This means customs declarations, safety and security documentation, regulatory checks for sanitary and phytosanitary products, country of origin requirements, and the grim splatter of whatever system they introduce for the arrangements in Northern Ireland.

These are complex procedures, requiring a lot of different people in lots of different sectors to do the right thing at the right time in the right place. It involves countless hastily-implemented IT systems, with complex inputs, which have to be filled in at the correct moment by officials working for exporters, hauliers, port authorities, importers and government agencies. Customs procedures are black and white. They’re right or wrong. So where things aren’t done correctly, they will stop a shipment and all the other shipments being transported with it. Their sudden implementation, under a tight time-scale, overseen by a government which makes a mess of even much more simple operations, will likely be very chaotic.

When the reality of that hits, the Leave government is going to try and blame someone else. This is what they always do. They blame the Europeans, or the civil service, or the Labour party, or Remainers, or the courts. They are congenitally incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions.

So, our job during this period is simple. We must make them own it. That is not solely for reasons of justice, although it is that as well – people should take responsibility for their actions. It is not solely for reasons of truth, although it is that too – rational political debate is only possible where we accurately observe cause and effect. It is because we must protect the most vulnerable. If we allow the government to blame others for their failures, they will blame the people they always do – those who do not have power, those who do not count as ‘the people’, those from other countries. It’s up to us to stop them from doing that.

The consequences of Brexit will play out for years to come. But the first moment in this second stage begins in January, when the real-world implications of what the project entails finally emerge.

Naomi Smith

Naomi Smith – CEO Best for Britain

Without wanting to jinx things, it appears that talks between the EU and the UK are progressing once more, after the EU allegedly agreed to Johnson’s demands for Brussels to publicly state that Britain ‘is a sovereign nation’. I’m hopeful that an agreement will be reached.

Johnson’s self-imposed deadline of 15th October, much like his end of July one before it, has come and gone, and while there’s not yet white smoke, there are hopes that a catastrophic no deal will be averted. What there is, of course, very little chance of is a comprehensive trade deal – that is one that would be both broad and deep. There simply isn’t time left for such detail to be negotiated. Which means that the government has failed to deliver, for now at least, what it promised in its 2019 manifesto. The best we can now hope for is a deal that agrees zero tariffs, to keep trade as frictionless as possible. This would not mean that there wouldn’t be trouble at the borders – far from it – as non-tariff barriers will still apply in the event of deal or no deal, and issues like phytosanitary checks on livestock and meats travelling between the EU and the UK will cause significant hold ups, at least in the short term.

It’s easier to add building blocks to a structure that is already in place. A deal, therefore, remains preferable to those of us who want the UK to have a close relationship with Europe. That’s not to say we couldn’t start to build back from a no deal scenario, but it would be harder and slower.

Pro-Europeans must keep shining a spotlight on the benefits of multilateral cooperation and dialogue and keep pressure on Westminster and Brussels to work together on non-trade issues too, such as vaccines, medicines, research and security. We can also highlight good news stories about EU funded projects and initiatives happening in the 27, because they’ll likely get precious little coverage in the UK press. We can paint a picture of what’s been taken from, the opportunities we’ve been led away from, by a group of nativists hell bent on making Britain an inward, not outward looking country.

Above all, we must keep positive and engaged in the fight. Hard won rights are easily lost, and for too long those who believed in open society took it for granted. If Biden wins the White House, the political power compass will shift across the West, and we can once again begin to feel the tide turning in our favour.

Our guest in November is former MEP Catherine Bearder, pictured here with Sue Wilson in Oxford recently. Catherine is the former leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the EU Parliament, and a committed campaigner. If you have a question for Catherine, please email it to us before 7 November at

Sue and Catherine Bearder MEP
Bremainers ask ……. Jonathan Lis

Bremainers ask ……. Jonathan Lis

Jonathan read English at the University of Cambridge and then completed a Masters degree in social sciences at the London School of Economics. After a period of teaching – and training to be an actor – he went to work for an MEP at the European Parliament in 2012, focusing on foreign affairs and human rights. His particular areas of focus were EU enlargement, engagement with the Balkans and post-conflict resolution, and the Western Sahara. He then worked at the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation, where he advocated for, among others, anti-slavery activists in Mauritania, the Uyghurs, and the people of Abkhazia. In 2015 he returned to Britain and began working on the campaign to remain in the EU, writing a report on Brexit and the Commonwealth. After the referendum, he became Deputy Director of the think tank and campaign group British Influence, working for a soft Brexit, then a referendum, and now the closest possible engagement with the EU. He has published almost 200 comment pieces for, among others, the Guardian, Prospect and Washington Post, and regularly appears as a political commentator on broadcasters including the BBC, Sky, Al Jazeera and LBC. 

How soon could the UK realistically re-join the EU, and do you think there will be an appetite in the country to make that happen?

I would love this as much as all of you, and even in the days after the general election I thought there could be a new movement to rejoin. That quickly proved unrealistic. Rejoining is at least a decade away and probably longer. Brexit must fail and be seen to fail, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee of a public appetite to rejoin. People accept the status quo, move on and don’t necessarily want to refight old battles. Certainly, there’d be no chance whatsoever if a future government had to commit to join the euro or Schengen. We also don’t know how the EU will look or think in a few years’ time. The virus has demonstrated that the world is completely unpredictable, and events are out of our control: things can turn on their head in a matter of weeks or months. Having said all that, the work to prepare for that movement needs to start now, and in fact already has. If and when there is a space in British politics to rejoin the EU, we need to be able to hit the ground running. The public may also be a lot more pro-European than they are now. Attitudes don’t last forever. There is no reason why the public in the 2030s can’t be as enthusiastic as they were in the 1970s and 80s. So don’t be despondent. Every bit of campaigning and activism now is like an investment for the future – even if it doesn’t always feel like it at the time!

How will Brexit affect you personally, and how do you mitigate against it?

The irony of Brexit is that, in the main, it stands to hurt Leave voters more than Remain voters. People with more money can more easily shoulder higher food prices, for example, and more expensive holidays. If you have a number of qualifications you will still probably be able to work and live in the EU. I am desperately sad about the confiscation of my rights with regard to free movement, but materially and professionally I don’t think my life will change that much. I don’t work in one of the countless goods and services sectors that could be brought to its knees. For me Brexit is emotional and political and about the country as a whole – who we really are, who we want to be and where we are going. This, for me, is the main source of turmoil and sadness. We mitigate it by battling every day for a country and world we can be proud of, in small steps and large. We oppose people with facts, don’t sink to the level of Brexit’s leaders, and treat everyone with kindness and respect. Ultimately, in spite of everything happening in the world, we must never lose sight of our personal happiness and well-being and those of the people we love and care about.


With the passing of the date that would ‘allow’ Britain to extend the transition period, if the U.K Government subsequently asked for an extension, would the EU grant one?

The short answer is yes. My basic argument throughout this process has been that the EU will not throw us off the cliff unless we insist on jumping. The long answer is, it’s not that simple. 

You would need to amend the treaty or find some clever legal trick to accomplish the same result. That would meet real reluctance from an EU that has endured quite enough of our nonsense already, but I suspect they would do it. The real problem is that we are led, in Britain, by fundamentalists who see any such extension as wartime surrender. I suspect the most likely outcome is a deal where the UK works very hard to present climbdown as victory, but that won’t involve extending the transition in any formal sense.

Where do pro-European campaigns go from here?

As I said in my earlier answer, we keep on fighting for what we believe in: an open, inclusive, pro-immigration Britain which wants to cooperate and coordinate with our European neighbours economically, culturally and politically. We extol the benefits of harmonising with the EU and, in a broader sense, working as part of a big team. When the government harms the national interest by turning inwards, we oppose it and campaign against it. This is the longest of long games and we act strategically. We don’t call for rejoining now; we show how being in the EU benefits us all and how Brexit is harming us. We lay the seeds and groundwork for a better future and a political movement. Eventually, we hope, the public will realise that we’re better off in. Even if they don’t, we never stop arguing for the Britain we want to see.

After numerous public scandals involving members of the Tory Government, and now with release of the Russian Report, do you think public support will ever say enough is enough?

I absolutely do. The biggest mistake the Tories make is to believe themselves infallible and untouchable. They are not. I said in May that the Cummings scandal could be a turning point, and still think that could prove the case. The government has lost the most valuable currency it has: trust. Once you lose that, it is almost impossible to recover. They now stagger from crisis to crisis in a way unseen since the last few years of John Major’s premiership. Coupled with the leadership of Keir Starmer, who has won broad approval in polling and from the centre-right media, the Tories could be in trouble. You never write them off, of course, and the next few years could be as unpredictable as the last – but if they continue with the current level of complacency and incompetence they could be in for a very rude shock.

What odds would you give for the survival of the Union over the next ten years?

Very low. This story could be as big as Brexit but the Westminster establishment is barely even thinking about it. I think Wales and Northern Ireland will still be in the UK for the foreseeable future, but Scotland has now checked out of the Union emotionally and could well follow politically.

Since 2016 the UK government has disregarded the Scottish government, parliament and people at every turn, making an obscene mockery of the 2014 pre-referendum ‘vow’ that Scotland and its views would be taken seriously. A greater proportion of Scots voted to be a part of the EU than the UK, and a large number of Scots Remainers have now fully thrown in their lot with the independence movement. That is not to say that independence would be easy, and the hard Scottish-English border will be the key issue of any new referendum campaign. But I do think the UK government will have to permit that campaign. The SNP will likely win the 2021 parliamentary elections on a clear manifesto pledge to hold the vote, just as they won the general elections in Scotland in 2019 and 2017. It is hard to see what more the Scottish people have to do to signal their approval for the SNP’s main policy, and – watching what happened in Catalonia – the UK government cannot say no forever.

You worked with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, working with marginalised nations and peoples. Did you always want to be involved in human rights and journalism or was it a natural progression?

I have always been fascinated by both human rights and journalism but actually came to both careers by accident. In 2012 I began working on a short-term basis for an MEP who was part of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee. That turned into a long-term job and brought me into regular contact with human rights defenders from around the world. I drafted the European Parliament’s report on human rights in the Sahel and Western Sahara, which also brought home how valued the EU was on the international stage. Working for a human rights NGO was the obvious next step after I left the parliament, and if it hadn’t been for Brexit I’d still probably be in that field. I’ve always loved writing, and penned a few opinion blogs years ago, but again fell into journalism mostly by accident. In 2016 and 2017 some publications asked me to write about my work on the single market and post-Brexit foreign policy, and that set me off!

Read Jonathan’s latest article on Boris Johnson in the Byline Times.

Many thanks to Jonathan for taking part.

Our guest for September’s Bremainers Ask feature is philosopher and prominent anti-Brexit campaigner A.C. Grayling. His 2017 book Democracy and Its Crisis examines the threats facing representative democracy today in the light of the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum.

Bremainers ask….. Sue Wilson

Bremainers ask….. Sue Wilson

Having joined Bremain in Spain shortly after the Brexit referendum, Sue became Chair of Bremain in September 2016.  She has been an active anti-Brexit & citizens’ rights campaigner ever since.

Sue presented evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee in January 2017, on behalf of Brits in Spain. She delivered campaign speeches at local and national events, including rallies in London, Manchester, Leeds and Brussels. Sue was also lead plaintiff in the ‘Wilson vs. The Prime Minister’ (Theresa May) legal challenge, over the validity of the Brexit referendum.

Sue has lived in the Valencian Community for 13 years with her husband and four cats and is now retired.

Tracy Rolfe: Do you think the UK will re-join the EU at some point? If so, how do you see that unfolding in terms of circumstances and timescale?

I think re-joining the EU is on the cards, but it’s going to take time. I don’t see a Conservative government applying to re-join, so first we need a Labour/coalition government in power. Then we’ll need an ongoing campaign selling the benefits of EU membership to the public – something that was sadly missing during the referendum campaign.

Even when the true cost of Brexit is more obvious, we will still have our work cut out. EU membership is going to be more costly next time around – we threw away the best deal we were ever going to get. No matter how much we tried to warn of the costs and dangers of Brexit, the public will only really miss what they have lost when it’s gone. The whole country is in for a very rude awakening from January 2021. Whilst I don’t wish any hardships on anybody, it may take the suffering that’s to come to make the UK wake up and think again. If I had to hazard a guess about timescales, I’d say it’s going to take a decade.

Sue Wilson UK SODEM May 2018

Jim Westlake: Do you think that the EU would welcome the UK back in with open arms?

After the way the UK behaved during the course of the negotiations, it’s easy to think the EU would be glad to see the back of us. We’ve been impressed by the EU’s professionalism throughout, and especially by their patience. The way the EU have conducted themselves, and protected their members’ interests, has emphasised just why we value our EU citizenship so highly.

I feel any efforts on the UK’s part to re-join would require considerable proof that the majority of the UK – a super majority this time, not a narrow one – were totally behind the move. There would surely be additional conditions to be met, such as joining the Euro and Schengen. Also, I imagine the EU would need to be convinced the UK were truly committed to European ideals and co-operation. So, not exactly open arms, but the EU are pragmatists, and the UK could once again become a valuable member.

Alison Curtis: What skills did you bring with you to Bremain and what new ones have you needed to acquire?

My background was in Sales, Management and Training, with a professional qualification in Learning and Development. Many of the skills I learnt during my career have proved invaluable in Bremain – especially leading a team, working with others, facilitating meetings and motivational skills.

The skills I’ve learnt over the last 4 years that have proved most useful have been public speaking and writing. I was used to speaking in front of 10 or 15 people – all of whom I knew – but speaking in front of a crowd of strangers for the first time was a terrifying, and exhilarating experience. Not only did I never think I’d be able to speak in front of 100,000 people, I certainly never imagined I would enjoy it! Now I’m a sucker for a stage and a microphone!

Writing was a surprise too. Of course, I’d written business reports, meeting minutes etc, but never so many articles. Now I write a weekly article for the Local Spain, as well as much of the Bremain newsletter and website content. I fear I may be getting to like the sound of my own voice too much!

Molly Williams: Do you think Brexit will have a knock-on effect on other countries throughout the EU where there is rising Euro-scepticism, perhaps influencing other countries to leave the EU?

The rise of the far-right across many European countries has been a huge concern, not least in Spain. However, one positive of Brexit seems to have been the strengthening of the bond between the EU27 countries. The risks and potential damage of leaving the EU have been exposed for all to see. Even countries further right than the UK seem to fully appreciate the value of EU membership. Despite what the Brexiters suggested – that Brexit would lead to the break-up of the EU – it seems to have had the opposite effect, thankfully. I don’t think any other member state is foolhardy enough to follow the UK’s suicidal path.


Michael Soffe: Guy Verhofstadt believes that permanent residents of an EU country should have the right to vote in the general elections of their country of residence. Do you agree with him?

It would seem a very sensible and logical move. This would be especially relevant to Brits in the EU who are without voting rights in the UK. As Spanish residents, we have a stake in this country in so many ways – even those of us that are retired.

However, I would wish for a reciprocal arrangement for EU citizens living in the UK. The arguments are the same for both – if you are legally resident, you should have a say in the future of the country you call home. In fact, you could use that argument to say that any legal resident, regardless of where they are originally from, should have that same right. In the meantime, I could certainly live with this being an EU-only policy, to get the ball rolling.

Wayne Darren Smith: After 4 years of fighting, do you see a time when you can hang up your blue wig and just bring it out for Carnival, and if so, how long do you think that will be?

That’s a question that could have a different answer depending on which day of the week you ask me!

When I got involved in this fight 4 years ago, I had no idea of the journey I would be taking. Whilst I regret, bitterly, that we lost, it’s been an amazing, exhausting, wonderful experience, and I still don’t know how or when it will end.

Before the referendum, I was not at all interested in politics or current affairs. I still don’t know if, when this is all over, I’ll revert to my former ignorant bliss, or whether my awakened passion for campaigning and politics will continue. It would be a shame not to use what I have learned for some good, but then the appeal of finally spending some quality retirement time with my husband is strong, too.

All I can say for sure right now is that there’s still a lot of work to be done, and I’m still addicted, so you’re stuck with me for a while yet!

Next month, Bremainers Ask will feature Jonathan Lis – Journalist & Deputy Director of British Influence


Bremainers Ask ….. Joan Pons Laplana

Bremainers Ask ….. Joan Pons Laplana

Nurse/activist Joan Pons Laplana is originally from Barcelona and has lived in the UK since 2000. He has spearheaded a number of campaigns, including Kissing Goodbye to Sepsis, for which he won the BJN Nurse of the Year award in 2018. Since the Brexit referendum Joan has also campaigned to protect the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in UK.

Pat Kennedy

Do you think there will be any incentive, after Brexit, for Spanish nurses to go to the UK to work in the NHS?

No. Ending EU citizens’ freedom of movement will kill the NHS. Since 2010 the working conditions here in Great Britain have deteriorated, nurses’ salaries have been frozen while the cost of living has increased 20% during the same period. On the top of that, since the referendum in 2016, the pound is not as strong as it used to be, which means the salaries in other European countries are now more attractive.

Also, the Spanish nursing regulators have indicated that they will no longer recognise UK nursing experience for Spanish nationals post-Brexit. The WHO estimates that the world will need an additional nine million nurses and midwives by 2030. What Boris Johnson and his government don’t seem to realise is that nurses and doctors are highly valued and in high demand in other parts of the world. The lack of staffing is compromising the delivery of safe care and we have a ticking bomb in our hands. Freedom of movement is one of the main reasons why our beloved NHS is still standing on its feet. The end of free movement will probably be the last nail in the coffin. By creating barriers and making it more difficult for foreign nurses to come, it will have a huge impact on the number of nurses choosing to work in the UK. With the current situation, why would a European nurse come to the UK?

Would I have come to Great Britain 20 years ago without freedom of movement, and with the current hostile environment created by Brexit? The answer is no.

Joan 4

Juliet Smith

How do you feel about the governments u-turn on medical care for EU key workers? How did that impact on you personally and your colleagues, and the relationship with his patients?

The government have not done a u-turn yet. Foreign NHS workers and carers are still being charged for using the health service, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to scrap these fees “as soon as possible”. The date when fees will be scrapped is still not known and guidance has not yet been released by the Department of Health and Social Care. Looking at Mr Johnson’s track record, I do not trust his word at all. If the tax is not scrapped, that will have a significant impact on recruitment and retention as nurses will choose other places to go, increasing staff shortages and making it even more difficult to provide safe care.

How has the clap for carers made EU key workers feel?

I have mixed feelings about the clapping. I would like recognition more than the clapping, I would like something better with laws, we need minimum safe staffing laws that we don’t have in this country and I think it’s dangerous, and we deserve a well-earned pay rise. Despite nurses being given a pay rise by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last year, inflation and austerity meant in real terms there has not been much of a change.

What advice would you give nursing staff and other key workers from EU countries about coming and living in the UK, post Brexit and Corona?

Unless the government change their rhetoric and make Britain more welcoming, I would not advise anyone from the EU to come and live in the UK. Simple as that.

Caroline Guerrero 

Have you experienced any animosity towards you at work and do you think people’s opinions of foreigners working in the NHS has changed since the Covid-19 crisis?

Brexit has turned our lives upside down. Things did not happen overnight; instead, little by little, I have seen attitudes towards migrants change. Tensions had been building up slowly, but Brexit was like the cork being pulled out of the champagne bottle. After nearly two decades, I no longer feel welcome or valued. That hostility has disappeared, now people are not bothered about my accent, they’re just happy to see me and happy that I’m a nurse.

Joan 3

In a way the Covid crisis have brought back the sense of belonging because in the past few years, as a non-British national, I felt a bit ‘not wanted’ from the Government and part of society. In a way, we’ve come back to when I came here years ago. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Even the government have changed their rhetoric. We’ve gone from being low-skilled workers to key workers.

I hope that this change of attitude will carry on after but somehow, I am a bit sceptical. I have no doubt that the current government will return to the hostile environment as soon as they need the votes from the far right.

Tony Isaac 

We are already seeing the UK disengaging from the EU in areas like equipment procurement, security cooperation and track and tracing programmes & medical research and EU-wide clinical trials are also likely to be casualties of Brexit. What impact do you think these issues will have for public health in the UK?

We are already seeing the UK disengaging from the EU in areas like equipment procurement, security cooperation and track and tracing programmes, and medical research and EU-wide clinical trials are also likely to be casualties of Brexit.

Britain has always been a world leader in medical research but now Brexit threatens that with EU funding being withdrawn. Warnings of medicines shortages and delays in the supply of vital equipment and medical isotopes used in cancer treatment, and concerns about the NHS workforce crisis being made even worse, are not scaremongering. It’s the grim reality facing our precious NHS.

The Covid crisis has put a big emphasis on the importance of collaboration between countries. Despite that Britain seems to continue driving itself towards self-destruction. The contract-tracing charade is a clear example.

Joan 2

John Bentley 

To what extent are you concerned that the UK will adopt a more “free market”, privatised approach to healthcare as a result of the increased trading with the USA post-Brexit & how would any such changes affect NHS workers, patients, and the healthcare system in general?

As Mr Trump said, when you’re dealing in trade everything is on the table including the NHS. The UK is desperate to have a trade deal with the USA and that will come at a price. The US wants prices to be “market-derived” or “competitive” which would likely mean significantly higher than current guidelines.
Drug prices in America have soared since protections were removed in the 1990s. Studies have found that popular medicines are three times more expensive in the US than the UK. For individual drugs the differences can be vast. A trade deal with the US would be the death knell of the NHS and would open the door for an insurance-based healthcare system. As the costs will rise exponentially, it will be impossible for the government to fund the NHS. An estimated 530,000 American families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical issues and bills.

Access to free healthcare should be a human right. I do not want to live in a society that the first priority when someone becomes ill is to ask for their wallet. At that point I will resign from being a Nurse.

Joan has recently been featured in La Vanguardia, for his involvement in Oxford University’s clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine. You can read the full story here.

Next month’s Bremainers Ask feature will be something a little different. It is your opportunity to put questions to our Chair, Sue Wilson. Please email your questions to or add them to the ‘announcement’ post in the Facebook group. Thanks!

Bremainers Ask ….. Jessica Simor QC

Bremainers Ask ….. Jessica Simor QC

Jessica is recognised as one of the country’s leading specialists in public/regulatory, EU and human rights law, and has particular experience in data protection, tax, regulatory/competition law and in civil liberties work.

Jessica represented the second Claimant, Dos Santos, in R (Miller & Anor) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union & Others [2017], the challenge to the Prime Minister’s decision to use the Royal Prerogative to notify the EU of the UK’s intended withdrawal under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. She also represented Sue Wilson and others in the Wilson vs. the Prime Minister (Theresa May) – UK in EU Challenge.

Valerie Chaplin: With the economy set to suffer enormously from the current crisis, how can the Government be held to account: a) for their mishandling of COVID-19, and b) for ploughing ahead with a damaging Brexit, when an extension to the transition period would be welcomed by the majority?

Ultimately, the only way that the Government can be held to account is at the ballot box. Of course, Select Committees also provide for accountability but ultimately, they produce reports and findings, whose impact depends on the Government abiding by Conventions and acting honourably in responding to Committee findings and recommendations. There will also surely be a public inquiry in relation to both COVID-19 and ultimately, the Brexit debacle. Since the Government is in charge, however, of setting the terms of reference of such inquiries, we may be disappointed by them. It depends largely I suppose on who is appointed to run them, whether they are really useful and effective.

There will no doubt also be litigation about the Government’s handling of COVID-19 – indeed, I have been asked about such litigation but at the moment feel it is not timely. That is not because I do not think it has any prospect of success; to give but one example, there are clearly very serious issues surrounding what happened in relation to care homes, where people were undoubtedly put at a foreseeable risk to life that could, with sensible precautions, have been avoided. My hesitation is my sense that this is really not the right moment for litigation. In fact, I represented the family of a prisoner who died of asthma in the first case in the UK in which the Home Secretary was ordered by a Court to carry out a public inquiry into a death pursuant to Article 2 of the Convention. This was just after the Human Rights Act came into force. In that case, there was no nebuliser in the inmate’s cell despite the prison knowing he was at risk. The Court held that there was an arguable breach of Articles 2 and 3 (right to life and right not to be subjected to ill treatment) since the prison (for which the Home Secretary is responsible) had not taken reasonable steps to protect against a foreseeable risk to his life. I also acted for the soldier who died of heat illness in Iraq (and other British soldier Iraq death cases) – again raising the foreseeable risk to life point. This ultimately led to the finding that the Government is responsible for safeguarding British soldiers’ human rights, including when they are oversees. The same arguments will be made in relation to COVID-19, without the jurisdictional difficulties that arose in the Iraq cases.  It will be more difficult to establish any right to inquiries into the deaths however, at least in a hospital setting, because there is a line of case law concerning healthcare that excludes the need for public inquiries. This probably does not apply in relation to care homes, however. It is concerning that the Head Coroner has already issued a statement to say that systemic failings should not be investigated in any COVID-19 inquests. This will no doubt be tested in litigation.

Wilson vs PM

Helen Johnston: Do you think there is any scope for further legal action to hinder a damaging no-deal/bad-deal Brexit, to extend the transition period, or to prevent the loss of citizens’ rights?


Parliament has given its permission for no deal by enshrining in primary legislation that the transition period shall end on 31 December and that there shall be no extension. I cannot see therefore how there could be any further litigation on this. I’m afraid I am highly pessimistic about any litigation to argue that UK citizens have any right to retain EU citizenship (I know a case is pending). As for other rights, whilst we still have the Human Rights Act, we still have Convention rights, albeit that they can be removed by Parliament even without the Human Rights Act being repealed. And, whilst we are still in the Council of Europe, we have these rights even then as a matter of international law. We have yet to see whether Britain would really leave the Council of Europe and lose its last vestige of international standing. I know there are proponents of this course in Cabinet but still find it hard to believe they would take that step.

John Hodges: Is it time to make MPs Code of Conduct legally binding and enforced with appropriate punishment?

This is a very interesting question, which I have been puzzling over. The problem I suppose is always who should be the judge/enforcer. It certainly struck me as absurd that Dominic Cummings could be held in Contempt of Parliament, as was the Government itself, without there being any consequence. There does come a point where codes become less than useless – they provide cover but not deterrent. And it seems that we have reached that point. Perhaps the answer would be to have a small panel of MPs selected by Parliament (like the Speaker) that are charged with judging and enforcing a Code of Conduct. It would be very controversial, and I think a bad idea, for Judges to take this role.

Lisa Ryan Burton: After Johnson prorogued Parliament, there were many attacks on the judiciary from media and high-profile individuals, including some in the government itself. Considering the way politics is changing, do you feel it would be beneficial for the UK to have a written Constitution and a Constitutional court?

I am not someone who believes that a written constitution would provide a complete solution to what is going on. Constitutions are only as good as the people and institutions they govern and there is no doubt that some of the worst regimes have some of the best Constitutions. However, I am in favour of a written Constitution primarily because people simply do not understand our unwritten one. The role of the judiciary as a key pillar in our Constitution (and democracy) is the prime example of that. The great benefit of a Constitution is that it can be taught in schools, read by everyone and referred to by those seeking to hold those in charge accountable. A lot of ‘unconstitutional’ things have happened in the last three years but these have involved breaches of conventions that are unwritten and unenforceable. Very few people, including MPs, know about them or understand them and they get no traction in the press. But for all that, they are important in ways that are difficult to explain. We need more clarity. And people need to understand that democracy is much more than casting your vote at the ballot box.

Matt Burton: If we leave the EU with no comprehensive deal and therefore no close alignment at the end of this year, what rights do you see the UK government side-lining first and what would be your greatest initial worry?

UkinEU Challenge

There will probably be some deregulation and possibly reduced employment rights. What concerns me most though is the loss of rights that follows directly from leaving the EU – our rights (individual and corporate) in 31 countries. That for me is the worst thing about Brexit.

Steve Wilson: You recently tweeted of Keir Starmer that he “manifests a life-long training in handling information, questioning contradictions/falsehoods and seeking answers”. Do you think lawyers generally make good politicians, and would you ever consider going into politics yourself?

I think that the training of a lawyer is extremely useful. There are so many different parts of our job that are potentially useful. The engagement with experts in other fields, the need to ask questions and understand different areas of life/work, the need to interrogate one’s own arguments and consider the other side’s, the need to consider wider issues than how to win a case, including the overall objective of the client, tactics, strategy and risk. All of these, as well obviously as an understanding of how legislation and institutions work seems to me hugely useful for effective legislators. Keir Starmer has also of course, run a large institution and has widely developed legal skills because he has worked in criminal, civil and constitutional law and internationally as well. The challenge of politics for a lawyer is probably its slowness and the sense of not achieving anything. We tend to get stuck into detail with the aim of getting the ‘right’ answer, which does not exist in politics. And then there are internal party politics, which I think must be very difficult to handle. I have always considered going into politics and, indeed, stood in the European Parliament elections, albeit so low down the list that there was no chance of me getting a seat. I’m not sure I am tribal enough to do it though, although as the tribes have become clearer and clearer, it has become easier and easier to identify with one side.


Anon: With your experience in data protection, what are your thoughts on the government tracking app currently undergoing tests?

There needs to be not just absolute anonymity but also a guarantee of the data being deleted after a short period of time. I am not confident that this will happen. Unless it does, I cannot see how the app will comply with data protection laws. I acted for Privacy International in the case that David Davis and Tom Watson brought against the Home Secretary (then Theresa May) regarding the Data Retention Regulations. The Court of Justice held that the retention of data was unlawful because of the effect that that had on how we approach our lives. Private life is so fundamental to who we are – and how our society functions, as George Orwell’s 1984 shows us.

Many thanks to Jessica for taking part. Our guest for June’s Bremainers Ask feature is Spanish NHS nurse and campaigner, Joan Pons Laplana.