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.

Bremainers Ask ….. Ian Dunt

Bremainers Ask ….. Ian Dunt

Ian Dunt is editor of, author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? and a host on the Remainiacs podcast. His new book, How To Be A Liberal, is out later this year.


Ruth Woodhouse :Do you feel that the current coronavirus situation is bringing countries together or, especially in the case of the UK, driving them further apart?

This is a fascinating question. The reality is it does both. Taking the downside first: borders are closed, all over the world. It’s hard to get a more obvious example of national distancing than that. And on a less obvious level, some of the squabbles seen in Europe this month over the financial response, for instance on mutualised debt, have brought back the euro zone crisis demons and revealed that deep split between fiscally conservative countries and the rest. That has the capacity to do much more damage to Europe than Brexit has.

But there are reasons to be positive too. All countries face the same threat and share the same purpose under Covid-19. It is only by seeing what works in other countries and emulating them that we can succeed. So there is a chance here, if we take it, to make the case for internationalism – for countries working together to share expertise, equipment, and evidence.

Roy Stonebridge: It seems almost inevitable that we will arrive at the end of 2020, in the midst of a virus led global recession. How could UK possibly contemplate any changes to the trading arrangements with the EU in such circumstances?

Well if the government was half-way sane it would not consider this. But then, if it was halfway sane, it wouldn’t have got us in this position in the first place. People often assume that No.10 will be sensible if the crunch comes, but pretty much all the evidence of the last few years suggests that’s unlikely.

However, there are a few differences this time. Some leading Brexiters have expressed support for extension. To be honest, probably the best way of achieving an extension is for Remainers to not demand it. If it gets folded into the culture war, it’ll be lost.

One thing is true though: you can judge the government’s Covid-19 response by the Brexit extension. If they do not request an extension, they are doing Covid-19 wrong. This disease should be demanding all their time. If they have any capacity for anything else, they have not understood the magnitude of it.

Christine Jones:If it hadn’t been for Brexit, what might you have been doing for the last 4 years?

Oh God. The lost opportunities. More time down the pub, more time reading books, less time reading about the allocation of fish stocks in the European quota system.

Ian with Gina Miller

I used to write about other liberal issues: Drug policy reform, free speech, immigration, civil liberties, prison policy. I miss that. Not enough journalists cover it, so when you drift off, you feel you’re letting the side down. But unfortunately, there’s no chance of getting back to it any time soon. The nationalist wave is not receding. And anyone who believes in liberalism, reason and internationalism owes it to themselves to stand up against it. To be honest, as long as we can hold our head up high in a few years’ time and say that we played our part in trying to stop this thing, we’ll be able to consider it time well spent.

Tracy Rolfe: What impact do you think Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader will have on our medium- to long-term chances of rejoining the EU?

Potentially significant. He is electable. That’s not to say he will be elected, but at least he can be, which is more than we can say about the last Labour leader. He is also a Remainer. He has done enough, over the last few years, to earn our trust on that. If he sees an opportunity to rejoin, he will take it.

But the best thing we can do to make that happen is to lay off him. There should be no pressure for any attempt to rejoin in the short term. We should be aiming to make sure rejoin is a manifesto commitment in the election after next. And that can be done.

As my colleague on Remainiacs, Naomi Smith, says: ‘The first rule of Rejoin club is you do not talk about Rejoin club.’


Lisa Ryan Burton: Do you think Keir Starmer will face the same level of criticism from the British media that Jeremy Corbyn faced, or will his background and character make it much more difficult for the press to paint him in such a negative way?

He will face much less. There are very simple reasons for this. He does not seem to actively dislike Britain. He has basic competence. This seems obvious, but the previous leader was seemingly incapable of it.

However, he will still be attacked. The press are largely – outside of the Guardian, the Times and the FT – cheerleaders for Boris Johnson. That won’t change. They’ll look to undermine Starmer. If he’s clever though, he can sidestep this. And the way to do it is to speak over their heads, utilise the opportunities offered by impartiality rules on broadcasters, not treat the media as a tribal enemy, and triangulate the government position – try to turn the debate on issues in which you appeal to their base in order to expand the opportunities you have in your own territory.

Sue Wilson and Ian Dunt

Stewart Luscott-Evans: Has the coronavirus pandemic changed your views about Brexit in any way, or has it reinforced your beliefs?

Neither really. Brexit still seems a bloody silly idea. But it’s not like the EU response has been so magnificent that it particularly helps in the other direction either.

If anything it makes me worry about how the EU handles its own Covid-19 crisis. It must do better this time than it did in the bond crisis. It must demonstrate solidarity, the basic principle on which it is based. There’ve been a few examples of that – Macron’s rhetoric, Merkel’s use of equipment provision. But the efforts by Germany and the Netherlands to kill off attempts at really broad-ranging mutualisation of debt measures doesn’t bode well. It’s not enough to smuggle compromises into haphazard initiatives which go under the radar. It needs big visible measures that don’t just work, but are seen to work.

For decades now, national leaders have been able to claim credit for the good things the EU does, and blame it for whatever they don’t like. The EU facilitates this by stuffing big projects into boringly titled stability mechanisms and the like. That has to stop. They need to fix the policy. And they need to fix the way the policy is presented. The severity of the crisis provides a moment in which to achieve that, in a really eye-opening and effective way. I hope they take it. Although I must say that the early indications are not good.

Many thanks to Ian for taking part. Next month we talk to Jessica Simor QC. 

Bremainers Ask ……. Revisited Part Three

Bremainers Ask ……. Revisited Part Three

With the changing political landscape, Bremain invited former contributors to our Bremainers Ask feature for their thoughts on the subject. Before the current coronavirus crisis, we asked them to comment on where we are now, how they see things moving forward and what we pro-Europeans should be focusing on in the future.

Last month, we brought you the thoughts of Harry Shindler, MBE, Kyle Taylor & Steve Bray. Here is the final instalment, & grateful thanks to all our contributors.


Professor Michael Dougan

EU Law Expert, Liverpool University




Prof Michael Dougan

On paper, Boris Johnson may have “got Brexit done”: the UK is no longer a Member State of the European Union.  But in practice, many of the real questions about future relations between the UK and the EU remain to be settled.

On the one hand, the UK Government under Boris Johnson has at least pulled free of the excruciating period when leading Leave campaigners, and then the administration of Theresa May, promised all things to all people and either believed or pretended that that could ever possibly happen in reality.  The current UK position on future relations with the EU is at least possessed of greater internal coherence and demonstrates a higher level of political realism.

On the other hand, the cost of such clarity is that the UK Government is driving headlong towards a serious rupture in relations with the EU – a far cry from many of the Leave fantasies made back in 2016 and repeated consistently thereafter – and crucially, that will be true regardless of whether there is a deal or whether there is none.  The British decision to rule out any transitional extension only exacerbates the situation by making “two regulatory changes” more likely in due course.  And of course, there remains a shocking contradiction between Johnson’s propaganda about “Global Britain” as the champion of free trade versus the reality of a Government poised to commit the single gravest act of economic segregation in modern history.

Besides the damage which will inevitably flow from the UK’s decision deliberately to dislocate and distance itself from the Union, that choice also has various important internal consequences for the UK itself: for example, the customs tensions affecting Northern Ireland will only grow in proportion to the degree of Great Britain’s divergence from Union law; and the same is true as regards the management of internal trade between England, Scotland and Wales.  But most of all: why is the Johnson Government so obsessed with the power to diverge from Union regulatory standards, many of which are only minimum in nature and do not prevent the UK from pursuing higher levels of protection?  Perhaps “taking back control” is just an exercise in nationalist political rhetoric.  But it seems more likely that the Tories do indeed harbour a dream of dismantling the UK’s adherence to Europe’s distinctive socio-economic model.

Moreover, the UK’s increasingly abrasive approach to the future relationship also poses serious challenges for the EU itself.  Above all: the risk of an aggressive competitor on its very doorstep, actively undertaking market deregulation and encouraging social dumping as an alternative economic model; as well as constantly engaging in attempts to undermine the political unity and solidarity of the Member States – with the UK’s post-withdrawal but still essentially Leave-driven leadership potentially motivated by the belief that the relative success of their precious Brexit can best or indeed only be demonstrated by the relative failure of the equally hated EU.  Even looking beyond the current generation of Tory politicians in office: the further and harder the UK does drift away from the European fold, the more difficult life will eventually be, even for a new administration more sympathetic to close relations with or indeed renewed membership of the Union.

For readers of this newsletter, it is also bitterly disappointing to see that the question of onward movement rights across the EU27 even for those UK nationals protected under the Withdrawal Agreement are not explicitly on the negotiating agenda – despite the two parties having repeatedly claimed that the issue would indeed be addressed in their “future partnership” talks.  It may take some noisy lobbying to make sure the issue doesn’t just drop off the agenda (again).

Seb Dance

Seb Dance

Labour politician, former MEP



So here we are. And we thought Brexit was bad enough. In fact, it was so bad that, having had quite enough of the dramatic highs and lows of the past three years my husband and I booked a trip as soon as I left the European Parliament to get away from it all. It was great! We had a fantastic time at the beach, the pool and an overland trip down the Malay Peninsula. I briefly forgot about the pain of losing the fight against Brexit and the sheer stress of it all. I remember joking one evening that whatever came next couldn’t be as bad as all that!

Fast-forward a few weeks and I am writing this on the eve of what is a likely announcement from the Prime Minister that we will have to stay indoors for the foreseeable future, an order that I know has already been in place in Spain for some time. We are afraid to go out, we give every passer-by a very wide berth. On the few occasions we do venture out we put on disposable latex gloves and a facemask – as much to protect anyone we come into contact with as ourselves.

We are living through something that is not just extraordinary, but which has profound consequences for our future. It is a global crisis, which will be far worse than 2008 in its impact. We must not let the UK government off the hook by letting them absorb the impact of Brexit into that of COVID-19, hoping no-one will notice. It would be reckless in the extreme to strangle a nascent recovery by pursuing an ideological agenda at a time when we need consensus and clear thinking to prepare us for the future.

Right now, we need to look after ourselves and our loved ones. We will get through this. And when we do, we must never give up on our fight: to create a world where we don’t divide each other on the basis of nationality but one where we are free to live our lives where we want, the way we want.


Many thanks to all of our Bremainers Ask contributors who have taken part in our Revisited series. Bremainers Ask will be back next month with Ian Dunt, Editor of and host of Remainiacs