Bremainers Ask …….. In Limbo Project

Bremainers Ask …….. In Limbo Project

We’re delighted that Debbie Williams and Elena Remigi of the In Limbo project have agreed to answer questions from Bremain members this month. Below you can find out more about the project and our two interviewees, followed by their answers to your questions.

Description of the project

The In Limbo Project is a not-for-profit, non-political initiative set up by a group of EU citizens to record testimonies from the five million victims of Brexit and to allow their voices to be heard. 

In Limbo project book, called ‘In Limbo: Brexit Testimonies from EU Citizens in the UK’. In 2018, it published its second book, ‘In Limbo Too: Brexit Testimonies from UK Citizens in the EU’. This second book is born of a collaboration between the In Limbo project’s group ‘In Limbo – Our Brexit Testimonies’ and the group ‘Brexpats – Hear Our Voice’. 

A true grassroots endeavour, the In Limbo project has gone from strength to strength as the books have become the go-to reference documents for understanding the harrowing human cost of Brexit for all those who, having embraced the European dream and built their life on it, have been plunged into an anguishing limbo since June 2016. These 5 million people risk losing everything (their homes, their friends, their jobs, their families, their sense of identity…) through no fault of their own and, for most of them, without their having had any say in what’s happening.

 Elena and Debbie

Elena Remigi

Elena Remigi is an interpreter and translator originally from Milan, Italy. She moved to the UK in 2005 with her husband and son, after spending 6 years in Ireland. She is Founder and Director of the In Limbo project and co-editor of ‘In Limbo & In Limbo Too: Brexit Testimonies for EU Citizens’. 

Debbie Williams

Debbie Williams is Welsh, and recently moved to Spain from the Netherlands. She founded ‘Brexpats – Hear our Voice’ in June 2016 and is on the Steering Committee of British in Europe. Debbie is co-editor of ‘In Limbo Too’.

Jo-Jo Chipper: “In the case histories you have collected, what is the most frequently-occurring fear voiced by the participants?”

Elena: “For EU citizens in the UK, the most recurring fear is that of not being allowed to stay in Britain due to a lack of documents and the presence of Theresa May’s hostile environment. Let’s not forget that some of our members have been dealing with this daily when trying, for instance, to obtain permanent residence. To give you a small example, in the summer of 2017, the HO sent some deportation letters ‘by mistake’. Some were sent to members of In Limbo. One was sent to a Finnish academic; another to a car factory worker upon his return from the holidays. In this context, you can understand why the most vulnerable ones in particular are very afraid about their future. 

The worries may differ but there is a common denominator: the fear of the unknown, a sense of betrayal because our rights have not been guaranteed and anger for not having had a voice in this referendum and what followed.”

Tracy Rolfe: “How much overlap is there between the two groups? Are they mirror images of each other or are there lots of differences?”

Debbie: “We are very much sister groups based on shared circumstances, and also that has now developed into personal friendships. There are many similar worries. Of course, each person is affected emotionally in different ways but the common denominator is one of anxiety based on the unknown.”

Elena: “In both groups, there’s a good mixture of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27. Working together has deepened our friendship and made us realise the importance of collaborating to ensure that all our rights are ring-fenced. Both groups of citizens are at serious risk, particularly in the case of a no-deal. The suffering is also the same, so in this sense we are mirror images of each other.”

Ruth Woodhouse: “Is there a difference in attitude between the way in which people view the plight of EU citizens in the UK and the way in which they view that of British citizens in the EU27?”

Debbie and Elena: “That’s a tricky one to answer. It depends on who you talk too. Within the two groups there is solidarity and understanding; outside of our safe places there are mixed messages. However, we will not be anything other than one united immigrant voice.”

EP group

Pat Kennedy: “Have there been any interesting or helpful responses from politicians who have been presented with the books?”

Debbie: “With ‘In Limbo Too’, yes – encouraging and supportive words from many MEPs, a couple of MPs, and in the Lords. Three MEPs supported us in our presentation to the European Parliament last October.”

Elena: “Both books have received a lot of supportive messages from MPs, MEPs, Ambassadors and other political figures. The first book in particular has been sent to over 1000 politicians and we aim to do the same with the second. It’s imperative that our voices be heard.”

Sandra Stretton: “Do you have another book in the pipeline?”

Elena: “The In Limbo project was conceived as a duology from the beginning. There is no other book in the pipeline, but we will continue to document everything that happens to EU citizens in the UK and to UK citizens in the EU27, as our rights have not been fully guaranteed yet. In the case of EU citizens in the UK, there are grave concerns regarding Settled Status, given it’s an application made in a country known for the hostile environment introduced by Theresa May. It’s already causing problems now, and we wonder what will come next. For Brits in the EU27, there are concerns linked to the various registration systems put in place, access to healthcare and loss of freedom of movement and what that will mean for people working across borders. So this will remain an open project which will give a voice to the voiceless and consign these testimonies to future generations to understand – and hopefully learn from – what happened.

In Limbo March

James Gambrill: “How has being involved with the In Limbo project changed your own personal outlook?”

Debbie: “I now have a better understanding about the issues surrounding migration, the preconceived ideas and stereotyping of people. It has opened my eyes to not only European migration but all migration and asylum issues. The human side always seems to be forgotten: Every individual is unique, and the treatment of people by some governments is a disgrace.”

Elena“Totally agree with Debbie – I would not add anything else.”

Malcolm Perry: “Has there been a difference between the reception of ‘In Limbo’ and ‘In Limbo Too’? Is there a difference between perception of migrants in your opinion?”

Debbie: “As a group, BHOV has had some understandable stick for the word ‘Brexpats’. I take full responsibility for naming it, and I’m hating it more as each day passes. But in consultation with the group we have decided to keep it as it is known and a reminder each day that we are not expats, we are immigrants, like all mobile citizens.”

Elena: “Personally, I think that in terms of the books, they have been equally well received. ‘In Limbo’ being the first volume, it created quite a stir when it came out in 2017, but I would have always felt it to be an incomplete work if the stories of the Brits in Europe hadn’t been told.

Regarding the perception of migrants, however, there is a difference. Since the referendum campaign, here in the UK, EU citizens have had to fight against a narrative which all of a sudden has depicted us as unwelcome migrants, as the ‘other’, the enemy, as people who weigh on the system. We have also had to deal with innumerable cases of xenophobia and hate crimes. The last we heard was yesterday by a member whose windows were vandalised. I don’t think that’s the case for most Brits in Europe, so in that I see a divergence.”

Zoe Adams Green: “What first gave you the idea of a book of testimonials?”

Elena: “The idea of the book came from my personal experience of dealing with the Home Office. When I obtained permanent residence after filling in the infamous 85-page document and sending 5 kilos of evidence, I decided to apply for citizenship.

On top of all the tests and documents already requested by the Home Office, I had to send an additional 3 kilos of evidence (including detailed bank statements and medical reports), as the Home Office simply wouldn’t believe that I had been living in this country for over 13 years even though I had a house, a car and a mortgage here. Sadly, I realised that I was not an isolated case, and this opened my eyes to the plight of many others.

Above all, after the referendum I noticed that many people had started sharing their feelings of anger, worry, disappointment and even betrayal on Facebook, and so I thought that if our voices could be collected in a book they could become a much stronger, collective voice. The aim of In Limbo is therefore to show the human side and the human cost of the Brexit story.”

Kay Adams: “Once Brexit is resolved, one way or the other, will you still be actively involved in citizens’/human rights campaigning?”

Debbie: “Absolutely yes for me. There is no way we should ever dehumanise people on the basis of their origins, we should never again see people be stripped of their rights without their permission.”

Dedication to Sue Wilson

Elena: “Definitely yes. This experience has opened my eyes to the plight of countless other people: EU citizens in the UK, UK citizens in the EU27, non-EU migrants or refugees, and it has given me a better insight into the hostile environment and the impact it has had on countless lives (for example on those of the Windrush generation). The fact is that I can no longer close my eyes after what I have heard from private chats or have read, so I think that I will continue to be involved in one way or another in these issues.” 

Many thanks from the Bremain team to Elena and Debbie – and thanks also to the Bremain members who sent in their testimonies to the In Limbo project. 

Bremainers Ask….. Seb Dance MEP

Bremainers Ask….. Seb Dance MEP

This month, Seb Dance MEP kindly agreed to answer a range of questions put forward by Bremain members. Seb is a Labour MEP for the London region and a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. He’s been an MEP since 2014, and is a strong supporter of remaining in the European Union. Seb is also a major proponent for a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal – he puts his case forward in this article.

Pat Kennedy: “When we have managed to stop Brexit, which politician do you think would be the most capable of bringing the country back together and healing the wounds?”

Seb Dance: “The person who brings our country back together after Brexit will be an individual who has learned the lessons that the Brexit debate has taught us: That it serves to be honest with the public rather than trying to sell them a fantasy; that politicians must listen to – and engage with – the public and be prepared to have difficult conversations; lastly, that while we may disagree, there is more that unites than divides us. It is a politician who embodies these values who in my view will be able to unite the country.” 

Andrew Carter: “Would you consider running for political office in the UK Parliament at any stage?”

Seb Dance: “For the moment, all I am focused on is doing everything in my power to stop Brexit and, in the event Brexit does go through, to doing all I can to mitigate the consequences and to campaign for the UK to rejoin the EU. I will do that in whatever capacity I can, elected or not!”


John Moffett: “The threat of Brexit has pushed us all to our limits. How do you cope with the extra pressure of dealing face-to-face with Batten, Farage, and so on in the European Parliament, and is a sense of humour important? – we all loved your impromptu “He’s Lying” poster!”  

Seb Dance: “A sense of humour is always important, particularly in the world we now live in, but as ridiculous as those two are, we must remember that they are at the same time extremely dangerous., Batten et al. have spent years poisoning the public discourse around the EU and immigration, and they have espoused their racist views on a platform far, far larger than they merit. When I wrote that sign in the chamber it came from a place of great anger that Farage is able to lie so indiscriminately to the public. Of course, the fact that it made you and many others laugh is an added bonus. The truth is, I don’t think I have ever been angrier than I was at that point.”

Ruth Woodhouse: “I’ve been asked several times what I believe is the greatest benefit that the UK gains from being a member of the EU. How would you answer the same question?”

Seb Dance: “That’s a difficult question to answer.  We hear a lot about the great economic benefit that comes with EU membership and the half century of relative peace and stability that the EU has helped cement; however in my view, it is the right to work, study, travel and love across 28 member states that is the greatest benefit of EU membership. 

Seb and Sue

We have taken for granted that so many countries and cultures are at our fingertips just waiting to be explored and the profound impact that has had on millions of European citizens and on deepening our shared European culture. The fact that some are attempting to rob British citizens of this right is a disgrace. It will also put our young people at a tremendous disadvantage compared to their European counterparts.”

Barbara Leonard: “What are your views of the positive and negative aspects of the first past the post system vs. proportional representation?”

Seb Dance: “Since serving as an MEP, I must admit I have been converted to the merits of the PR system. I am a big supporter of the collaborative approach it demands of policy makers and think we could use more dialogue in today’s world. Equally, I think it magnifies the individual voices of both politicians and citizens, and in doing so makes people feel as if they have more of a stake in their society, something that is also sadly lacking in our society as the moment. The consensual style of politics is so much more conducive, in my view, to better policy-making. It has the added bonus of ensuring that policy isn’t just the preserve of one political party. It is much more of a communal endeavour.”

Steve Wilson: “If you could change one thing about the European Parliament, what would it be?”

Seb Dance: “That the Parliament would have one permanent home. While I love the city of Strasbourg, the fact that the Parliament moves oncee or even twice a month to its second home is I think indicative of what people would like to see changed within the EU. We have a perfectly good home in Brussels, and moving is a costly, unwieldy process – not to mention terrible for the environment.”

Kay Adams: “Is no deal still impossible?”

Seb Dance: “One thing I have learnt in the last few years is that the normal rules that you would expect to kick in, such as damage limitation and preventing the extremes from flourishing, are no longer there in our system. There is a kind of collective hysteria when it comes to Brexit, not only a refusal to look at the facts and what is objectively in the interests of the county but also a failure to look at what other people around the world are saying about us. This used to matter in our politics! But ultimately I think that anyone in a position of power, whether the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, knows that to implement a no-deal Brexit is to destroy one’s own credibility and the credibility of the movement you lead. There is no way back for any government or parliament that delivers food and medicine shortages and a catastrophic blow to our economy. The dangers of no deal are infinitely greater than the dangers of stopping Brexit or another referendum. I think the balance of probabilities still lies with that fact being appreciated by MPs and by the government.”

Bremain would like to thank Seb for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer our questions.


Bremainers Ask …… Madeleina Kay, EU Supergirl

Bremainers Ask …… Madeleina Kay, EU Supergirl

This month in our feature Bremainers Ask, we talk to EU Supergirl Madeleina Kay. Maddy is a writer, illustrator and political activist from Sheffield and  is Young European of the Year 2018, awarded by the European Parliament and the Schwarzkopf Foundation .

Maddy has been interviewed on television and radio on programmes such as Daily Politics, Channel 4 News, Question Time and Any Questions. She also wrote and illustrated  “Theresa Maybe in Brexitland”. She takes an active role in campaigning and produces artwork for multiple Remain projects, including Bremain in Spain (see pic below). Maddy can often be seen campaigning with Alba White Wolf, her white German Shepherd. 

Madeleina Kay with artwork for Bremain

Barbara Leonard Why do you think so many young people are not politically active?

Madeleina Kay: This is something that I speak about a lot and I do get some stick for criticising the apathy of young people. But I find it incredibly frustrating that my peer group are so disengaged from the political debate and unconcerned about the impact of Brexit on their future. I have seen some promising shift in attitudes recently, there has definitely been more young people turning up to marches and events or sending me messages and engaging online. I 100% support other grassroots youth activists who campaign along side me, but it is sadly my experience that the majority of people who are campaigning against Brexit are older people who are doing so on behalf of their children and grand-children. 

It was one of the reasons why I chose to drop out of University to campaign full time. Because there weren’t any youth activists or voices being heard and because I felt very isolated amongst my peer group at university. I would come to classes and be talking about the latest developments in the Brexit saga and they would be talking about who threw up in whose toilet the night before. 

There are many reasons why we see this trend in participation in the political debate. I think it all stems from a lack of political education in our schools – people don’t engage with things they don’t understand. And the level of knowledge about UK politics, never mind EU politics is abysmal. I believe quite passionately that we should have compulsory civic education that teaches people about how to be good citizens and active participants in democracy. I also think giving votes to 16-17 year olds is the best way to engage people in the political debate from a young age and hopefully set the precedent for life-long participation in our democracy.

Other ways to engage young people would be to widen the range of voices on UK media, our political narrative is dominated by pale, male and stale career politicians who fail to represent the diversity of British society. People are bored to death of listening to them and many just switch off to any news on Brexit. But politics is fascinating, and highly dramatic (the current state of British politics is like a soap opera!) if we can make the debate more engaging through how it is communicated, we will widen the audience for the messages we are trying to share. I think comedy, humour, satire, music, protest songs, cartoons, badges and stickers are all great, alternative ways of engaging people’s attention and sharing our message. The “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers are especially popular with the youth at music festivals.


Maddy at EU Parliament

Pat Kennedy: How do you think your incredible journey in the fight against
Brexit may have changed your future plans?

Madeleina Kay: The UK’s vote to leave the EU has been a life changing experience for many people across our continent.

Brexit affects all of us in the EU by stripping away our rights, damaging our future opportunities and devastating the economic and social prosperity of our country.

For me personally, the last 2 and a half years has been an unimaginable roller coaster of an experience, emotionally and physically exhausting, whilst also being exciting, dramatic and deeply fulfilling. I have learned a lot as an activist over their period – nobody ever taught me how to be a political campaigner – but I’ve figured it out as I go along, analysing and responding to what has been successful and wasn’t hasn’t. I was always very good at “self learning” as a student – less so at doing what I am told! I am also conscience I have improved as an artist, writer and performer – They say “practice makes perfect” – but the experiences and opportunities I have had, and the work I have put in myself shows in the quality of my illustrations and performances now compared to when I first started. 

I am proud of everything I have achieved and incredibly grateful to all the people who have supported me along the way. As someone that has always been a fairly solitary character, this journey has taught me the power of people and communities to come together, speak out for what they believe in, love and support each other and achieve great things.


Michael Frederick Phillips: Where do you see your future, Maddy – Illustrator, Teacher, Musician, Politician or something else?

Madeleina Kay: I get asked this question quite regularly. A lot of people assume that my campaign is purely about stopping Brexit and come March 29th that will be the end of “EU super girl” and I will go back to my life before as a Landscape Architecture student.

Maddy on PV March 20 Oct

But the reality is my activism is much bigger than just Brexit, I want to address the fundamental issue of Euroscepticism and populism that has resulted in Brexit, that also threatens member states across the EU. The EU continues regardless of what happens with Brexit and I am very keen to work with pan European campaigns to improve participation in European democracy (especially youth turn out for the 2019 May parliamentary elections), to promote European values, history and culture, to improve education and understanding of the European parliament and, if need be, to lead the campaign to take the UK back into the EU (in the horrific instance that Brexit occurs). 

I also campaign on a variety of other issues, one of my children’s books is about refugees and I go into Primary schools to give assemblies; another book is about the ‘Save Our Trees’ campaign in Sheffield; I am also heading a vegetarian/vegan food labelling ECI; My work as an activist will not cease with Brexit. And in that capacity I hope to continue to utilise my skills as an artist, a musician and a writer. For me, creativity is a means of exploring, engaging and communicating ideas, and as long as we have an imperfect world there will be battles to fight.

Alastair Stewart: Why do you think the government are so reluctant to hold a second referendum?

Maddy with Guy's fridge

Madeleina Kay: Brexit originated in the Conservative party, they have manufactured the crisis we are currently suffering, it is a symptom of the internal dispute within their party.

David Cameron thought that holding a referendum on EU membership would solve the dispute, instead he has unleashed untold evils and furthered divisions within his party and the UK as a whole. 

Theresa May’s government are now bound by the outcome of that vote because they promised to deliver on the result of the referendum, even against the national interests. If the Conservative government deliver a People’s Vote, particularly one that turned a Remain result, the fury and vitriol within their own party would reach boiling point, the rabid Eurosceptics would see their victory thwarted and they will never accept that. I think it is just a sad but recurring instance of the Tories putting party before country. Personally I think we will only achieve a people’s vote if we shift the Labour party’s position. If Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru & Green parties back a people’s vote, we only require a handful of principled Tory MPs to rebel and we’ve achieved the means of changing the course of history for the better and getting our country back from the brink of this disaster.

Madeleina Kay

The Chipper Family

Archie Chipper (age 10, almost 11): Does Alba White Wolf enjoy going on anti-Brexit marches?

This is a very good question because Alba White Wolf doesn’t have a choice – it’s me, or my Dad that decides whether she goes out campaigning! So its our responsibility to make sure she is happy and safe. Lots of people ask whether she minds wearing the costumes, because I often put a t-shirt, bandana or a silly collar on her – but she doesn’t mind that at all! She’s lets me put it on her without complaint and she never pulls it when we are out. However, Alba White Wolf is very anxious because she is a rescue dog. We got her when she was 6 months old, she had been born on a puppy farm, so she wasn’t socialised properly and she was very traumatised. She is now 3 years old and she is much calmer than she was, but she still gets stressed out by other dogs and tired easily at the marches – But my Dad gets tired easily so he usually takes her home for a nap when they’ve both had enough! I’ve actually had to stop taking her with me so often, because it is very difficult travelling with a dog; trying to find pet friendly hotels, restaurants, most event venues won’t allow dogs in, I can’t take her on the London Underground because you have to carry dogs on the escalators, I also stay with lots of different people and they have pet cats (Alba is crazy for cats!) We took her to the Wooferendum dog march in October and she enjoyed that – she was actually better behaved when there were lots of dogs than when there is just a few – She is a White German Shepherd and she likes to round them up and lead the pack! My Dad tells me that she is always very sad and mopey when I leave her at home and she doesn’t play with her toys – So I think the answer is yes: she would rather be marching with me than left home alone!

Oscar Chipper (age 12.5): How many boyfriends have you had?

Madeleina Kay: Given that I am a super girl, you’d be disappointed to know: not very many. I’m far too busy fighting Brexit to find time for a boyfriend! In fact for the last 2 and a half years I’ve actively avoided it! But I’ve always been a bit of a “lone wolf” – and the boys I have dated have never been that nice to me – so maybe I need to learn to pick better ones?! That can be my mission after we stop Brexit! I have met some fantastic, inspiring and caring people through campaigning and made memories and friendships that will always stay with me. 

At the People’s Vote March on Oct 20th, Maddy recorded this video for Archie and Oscar who were unable to get to London:

Jo-Jo Chipper: What is the most unusual public appearance you’ve been asked to do for the Remain cause?

Madeleina Kay: This is a difficult  question; It depends how you define “unusual”. In terms of media appearances, the final episode of the Daily politics show, which consisted of a “Summer tea party” on a blazing hot day in June, with a mad set of cardboard cut-out politicians, interspersed with real politicians and an impersonator who were rotated in a “speed dating” style fashion, around a table with coffee mugs full of lemonade and a chocolate caterpillar cake that melted in the heat. The presenter asked us some fairly bizarre and trivial questions, like “How is the Brexit Crime fighting going?” without time to give any meaningful response. It was a suitably Alice in Wonderland level of bizarre for a tea party.

But in terms of events I have been invited to; travelling to Warsaw to speak and perform at the Schuman Foundation report on the Brexit and Remain campaigns was an amazing opportunity. Speaking at Manchester Design Festival, was a privilege that commended my achievements as an “artist” as much as a “political activist”. But my favourite grassroots events have to be the boat parties – we’ve done 2 now on the Thames – The first time I dressed as a pirate, the second as a sailor. They are so much fun, we have a great time and the videos/photos from the trips are always very strong.

Madeleina Kay

Thanks to Maddy for taking part, next month we have Labour MEP Seb Dance answering your questions. You can read more about Maddy on her website here: Alba White Wolf

Bremainers Ask….. Michael Dougan, Professor of EU Law University of Liverpool

Bremainers Ask….. Michael Dougan, Professor of EU Law University of Liverpool

The latest of our Bremainers Ask…. feature, where Bremain in Spain members ask topical questions of prominent individuals involved in the European Union debate, is with Michael Dougan – Professor of European Law and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law at the University of Liverpool.

He is an established academic authority on EU constitutional law and Joint Editor of Common Market Law Review – the world’s leading scientific journal for European legal studies.  Michael’s work has also contributed to wider public and political debates about European law, e.g. through written evidence to numerous UK Parliamentary enquiries, as an expert witness before various Parliamentary select committees and external advice to a range of UK public bodies and Union institutions.  Michael’s public engagement activities, including videos of his lectures before and after the 2016 UK referendum, received extensive public and media attention and he continues to be a popular authority on the matter for individuals and groups all around the world.

Univ of Liverpool Prof Dougan

Pat Kennedy: What would your solution to the Irish Border be?

Prof Dougan: The Irish border problem is entirely of the UK Government’s making. After the referendum, the Government announced that the UK would be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. That inevitably means having a customs and regulatory frontier with the EU – including the Republic of Ireland. But the Government also promised there would be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland – which the Government has consistently defined as having no physical infrastructure or indeed related checks and controls. The only feasible way to deliver that promise is for Northern Ireland to remain (de facto) within the Customs Union and at least parts of the Single Market (even if the rest of the UK does not). Yet the Government repeatedly insists that Northern Ireland will be leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market along with the rest of the UK and there will be no new trade barriers erected within the UK itself – a prospect the Government describes in increasingly apocalyptic terms as an existential threat to British constitutional integrity. However, the only way to avoid that prospect is… for the UK as a whole to remain within the Customs Union and the Single Market – so we’re right back where we started! In other words: the UK Government has been promising irreconcilable things to different groups of people. The only real question is: who is going to end up being disappointed by the eventual outcome? The most obvious solution to the whole mess is to cancel Brexit, of course. Otherwise, the Government could drop its ideological “red lines” and agree for the entire UK to stay within the Customs Union and Single Market – not because I think that is a sustainable model for the UK in the long term, but because it solves the Irish border problem while also making it much easier for the UK to rejoin the EU as quickly as possible. By default, we have the EU’s proposal for Northern Ireland to remain within the Customs Union and related elements of the Single Market – while trying to find ways to minimise the need for and visibility of checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. For its part, the UK Government has still failed to publish any more developed or credible alternative plans for the backstop. Recent statements from the UK Prime Minister do at least give us some insight into the Government’s thinking: for example, even the backstop should be defined in terms which cover the entire UK territory (not just Northern Ireland); but there should be an option to extend the post-withdrawal status quo transitional period (as an alternative to triggering that UK-wide backstop); though either such model would then have to contain provisions allowing for its termination (since any more indefinite UK-wide backstop or transitional period would remain utterly unacceptable to Leave supporters). The problem is: the UK Government is floating those ideas on the assumption that a solution to the Irish border problem can be and will soon be found at the level of the overall future EU-UK relationship – so that both the backstop and an extended transition are guarantees that might only be needed for a few months (if they are ever needed at all). That assumption flies in the face of every rational analyst’s view – that frictionless trade (of precisely the sort required to avoid a hard border in Ireland) is simply not possible once the UK leaves the Customs Union and the Single Market; no alternative future relationship, no matter how close (and certainly not the fantastical “Chequers Plan”), can deliver the same result. At some point very soon, the conundrum will have to be solved. Because as the EU has made clear: without a workable and acceptable backstop, the entire negotiations could break down. And if that happens: it means no withdrawal agreement; no transitional period; and the prospects for a reasonably prompt negotiation on the future EU-UK relationship set back considerably. Yet such a “no deal” scenario is perhaps the worst possible outcome for Northern Ireland and the Republic – since it risks precisely the prospect of an immediate customs and regulatory border and a direct threat to economic, social and political stability – something the UK’s contradictory promises in the Joint Report of December 2017 would then do precious little to help.

Ruth Woodhouse: You address a lot of student bodies. What is the mood amongst young people on Brexit?

Prof Dougan: It’s true that an important part of my current activities is knowledge exchange – sharing the results of my ongoing research around Brexit not only with my fellow academics but also with wider public and policy audiences. In particular, I give a lot of public talks: the University of Liverpool estimates that I’ve delivered or participated in face-to-face lectures, Q&As, panel debates etc for over 15,000 people across the UK since February 2016. I try not to refuse any bona fide invitation to speak from a citizen group or NGO – and the University of Liverpool are very generous in covering my travel and accommodation needs – though I have had to introduce a “two per week” rule (albeit not always rigorously enforced) just to limit the amount of time I spend on trains and in Premier Inns. But funnily enough, not many of my invitations are for student events or indeed to address younger audiences. I usually speak to audiences largely made up of middle aged (and often but certainly not entirely middle class) citizens: angry, knowledgeable, motivated and impassioned – but certainly not young! Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Far from it: informing the public about Brexit, let alone fighting Brexit, requires engagement with / the mobilisation of every section of society. And my experience is just that: we know there is a lot of student interest in and younger activism around Brexit. That was evident from even a glance around the national march in London on 20th October 2018.

European Union Law

Alex Kennedy: Professor Catherine Barnard, another prominent expert on EU law, is also from Northern Ireland. Is there something about EU law which is particularly attractive to Northern Irish academics?

Prof Dougan: In December 2017, Leiden University organised a major conference to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their Europa Institute for the study of (what is now) EU law. Due to a last minute change in the programme, I was asked to offer a few comments on the position of Ireland in the whole debate about Brexit as well as wider EU reform. I made two introductory points: first, Ireland’s record as a fundamentally stable democracy fully engaged in the institutions of European cooperation is second to none; and secondly, Irish citizens (from the North as well as the South) have made an incredible contribution to the study and practice of EU law and indeed continue to work prominently (even disproportionately, given the relatively small population) at the forefront of such an international discipline. It would be an interesting research project for a social scientist to explore why that might be the case. It might be that people from smaller countries (especially those which have been on the receiving end of the imperial ambitions of their larger neighbours) understand and appreciate more readily the limits of “national sovereignty”, the value of rules-based international cooperation and the potential for collective action to expand the possibilities of national influence. It might well be that it is easier for the smaller participants in a multi-national union to feel more comfortable with complex, multiple, overlapping and mutually enriching identities: after all, I can happily feel like a Belfast boy, Northern Irish, Irish, British, Scouse and European – all at the same time, each one providing a unique and important part of my own sense of identity. It is also quite possible that, for many people from Northern Ireland, European integration provides such a successful model for overcoming historical legacies of conflict and division through peace building and finding ways for different communities to live and work together harmoniously and productively. Or there might be other explanations. And we need to wonder: are such features and qualities unique to Ireland (North or South)? And what should we make of the fact that Northern Ireland is also home to some of the most ideologically fanatical and delusional Europhobes of all, i.e. in the form of the Democratic Unionist Party?

Professor  Dougan wades through the rhetoric of Chequers and “chuck Chequers” to deliver another insightful reading of the UK and EU position as the clock ticks on Brexit.

Sue Scarrott: With timescales tight, how can we engage with those suffering from Brexit ‘apathy’ or those who believe Brexit won’t affect them?

Prof Dougan: It’s easy to understand why people feel apathy towards Brexit. I often feel it myself. But I find the best cure is to recite the main reasons for regarding the 2016 referendum and its aftermath as the most idiotic and self-damaging act any developed country has inflicted upon itself since 1945. 1) The referendum campaign itself made a mockery of the UK as a mature and responsible democracy.
2) The genuine risk that the UK might experience systematic regulatory and administrative malfunction upon withdrawal, particularly if we end up with no transitional period to protect us from the Government’s own woeful lack of preparations.
3) Even without any such short term disasters: Brexit is so self-evidently a disastrous act of long term and profound national diminishment – squandering our leadership and influence within one of the most important international organisations on earth, and through it, an important part of our leadership and influence in the world at large.
4) The vast waste of time and energy and money and resources that is being poured – not into trying to improve our country and the lives of its people – but simply into trying to limit the self-inflicted damage that Brexit will bring (is already bringing).
5) For millions of people now and into the future, their life choices and horizons have been diminished: many of the freedoms and opportunities and protections and aspirations that I have taken for granted throughout my entire life will no longer be open to you, or to your children, or to your grandchildren.
6) The stirring up of deep seated bigotries and long-lasting social division that will tarnish our collective morality and undermine our social cohesion for years to come.
7) Even if there were no other cause for concern, no other cause for complaint: the very fact that millions of people, here and across the rest of Europe, have seen their lives and futures thrown into uncertainty and anxiety is an unforgivable act of cruelty for which the Leave Campaign deserves to be called out as utterly morally bankrupt.
8) The damaging legacy of what happens when a democracy normalises, legitimises and indeed actively rewards and encourages systematic dishonesty by its political leaders.
9) Last but not least: for many of the leading Leave Campaigners, leaving the EU is not just an end itself. It is merely a means to further their ulterior political objectives: ill-defined and confused, but still very dangerous, hard right dreams of some sort of political, economic, social and cultural revolution in the UK. Let’s not forget the depressing correlation between many of the leading Leave campaigners and other politically and socially regressive ideologies: from climate change denial, to the return of capital punishment, opposition to equality legislation, the final destruction of the welfare state, and other hard neo-liberal economic preferences – all reflecting their natural affinity with the hard American right. And let’s not forget that Brexit hasn’t just fuelled support for anti-rational, socially divisive, politically aggressive movements in this country but elsewhere too. In America and all across Europe, Brexit has become an inspiration for nationalists and populists. See what can happen when you lie big, when you play on people’s fears, when you offer up enemies rather than solutions? You can win too! So any time I feel tired or bored or fed up with Brexit, I remind myself: this isn’t just about Brexit. It’s also about the fundamental values that we want our country to respect and represent. And for the fundamental values that we want to see reflected in the world around us. That usually works.


Prof Dougan on “Why the EU matters to you: five key reasons why the EU needs to exist”.

Sandra Stretton: Does Brexit detract from the work you were doing prior to the Referendum?

Prof Dougan: I’m an EU constitutional lawyer. By its very nature, EU constitutional law is a broad but also very fast changing subject: at any given time, there might be dozens of developments going on across the legal system which are of potential constitutional interest; and in the blink of an eye, entirely new fields of enquiry can appear out of nowhere (or indeed disappear into history). The challenge for myself and my colleagues in the discipline is to decide which developments to concentrate on studying in greater detail versus which ones we should just be aware of and keep an eye on. Whichever choices we make, the objective is always the same: to know how the EU system fits together, to understand the dynamics which are shaping its development, to draw out the key patterns and themes and to critically assess their significance for the overall system of European cooperation. From that perspective, Brexit isn’t a distraction or detraction at all: it’s one of several contemporary developments with significant implications for EU constitutional law – alongside, e.g. the continuing programme of Eurozone reforms, the serious “rule of law” problems in Poland and Hungary, debates about the changing nature of Union citizenship and free movement rights, contentions around the legal and policy responses to third country migration and the operation of the Schengen system etc. My only choice was whether to pay Brexit close attention versus whether just to keep an eye on it and concentrate on some other major development/s. Obviously, I chose the former – though the choice was certainly not a purely intellectual one. Perhaps the most important factor influencing my decision to spend a lot of time researching around Brexit was, of course, the fundamental importance of Brexit for the future of the UK and its people. I feel very strongly that it’s important for academics to offer their expertise and skills to help better inform their fellow citizens and (as far as possible) political leaders about such crucial decisions. That is particularly true when the leading proponents of Brexit – a contemptible gang of charlatans and demagogues if ever there were one – have employed tactics and arguments which (in their sheer dishonesty and cynicism) are the complete antithesis of the basic principles of scientific research and evidence-based, rational policymaking which lie at the heart of my own profession.

Many thanks to Professor Dougan for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to following his insight into Brexit through his You Tube videos and articles.
Bremainers Ask…. Harry Shindler MBE

Bremainers Ask…. Harry Shindler MBE

In the latest of our Bremainers Ask feature, Bremain members asked questions of Votes for Life campaigner and British war veteran, Harry Shindler MBE. Mr. Shindler’s MBE was awarded in 2014 for his work tracing the graves of British servicemen.

97-year-old Mr. Shindler, a resident of Italy, is a vocal campaigner for voting rights for British citizens resident abroad. He is currently a claimant in a case lodged against the Council of the European Union by lawyer Julien Fouchet, in a bid to have the Brexit referendum declared illegal since Brits abroad were not allowed to vote if they had been out of the country for more than 15 years.

Harry kindly answered our members’ questions about his campaigning and views on Europe.

Sandra Stretton: “Has bringing this action given you a new lease of life?”

Harry Shindler: “The present case against the EU is, of course, not the first. As you may know, we have made our case in many courts in the EU, including the highest. In fact, I started with a petition to the Commission in Brussels, and that was 14 years ago. Whilst it may not have given me a ‘new lease of life’, it certainly helps you not getting too old!
It’s said that the UK loses many battles – but wins the war in the end. We’ve lost in most courts. Let’s hope that we win this one!”


Steve Wilson: “What was the first event in your life that motivated you to become politically active?”

Harry Shindler: “There was no ‘one event’. I could do no other than become active in politics. We were a very poor family in one of the poorest areas of the UK, for though I was born in Lambeth, I grew up in the Portobello Market area of North Kensington. I didn’t just see the poverty all around, but lived it.
I went to school in Portobello Road and worked on Saturdays in the market. I left school (and schooling) at 14 and entered an engineering factory in Park Royal. There I met men and women who wanted to change and improve our lot. I joined with them. I went on to work as an election agent for 17 years and served as the General Secretary of a national organisation in the pub industry. I took early retirement to be with my grandsons in Italy.”


Harry Shindler MBE

Rachelle Hughes: “What can we do as individuals to help speed your [Votes for Life] campaign through Parliament?”

Harry Shindler: “Sadly, our ‘Votes for Life’ bill still needs to go through all of the stages in Parliament. We can do little to speed up the parliamentary process. But of course, the more MPs we win over, the easier the road will be.
We have been very patient as the years have passed. And this patience has paid off. As has our not making the issue a party political issue. We work with all who support our aim. We just want the right to vote.”


Pam Wallace: “I have written to many MPs regarding Votes for Life. Are there other people that would be worth contacting?”

Harry Shindler: “You’ve done a great job in contacting MPs – so what else? May I suggest letters to Glyn Davies MP, who is the sponsor of our bill? Let him show in Parliament his postbag, with hundreds of letters of support.
Of course, letters to MPs from “groups of British citizens in Spain” etc. carry a lot of weight with MPs. Moreover, if they include a reminder that our family in his constituency expects him/her not to block the bill in Parliament, well that might give him/her food for thought!”

Harry on BBC

Ruth Woodhouse: “What would you say to the MP who told me, with regard to Votes for Life, ‘If someone chooses to live in another country, I don’t see why they need to have a say in the government of this country when they are not going to have to live with the consequences’?”

Harry Shindler: “The ‘someone’ is a British citizen, and wherever he/she goes, that goes with them. We don’t measure Britishness by so many miles from Charing Cross, and the further you go, the less British you are! No, you are born British and no matter where and how far you travel, you will always be British. If I go to work and live in Hong Kong, does that make me Chinese? We are the unpaid ambassadors for our country. But not all ‘choose’ to be abroad. A large percentage are abroad for reasons of employment.


Ray Stonebridge: “What would your old wartime colleagues have made of this separation from Europe after the 70 years of peace you all earned?”

Harry Shindler: “This is the most important part of our work – PEACE – 70 years of PEACE. If only for this we should remain in the European Union. Many of my old comrades will be as sad as I am when we’re told the older generation voted to leave Europe. We, who went through it all, as did the citizens in the UK, must hammer the message – it’s peace within the EU, but for how long outside the Union? I believe that if membership of the Eu gives us peace, then with all its faults, I’m for staying in.”


Many thanks to Mr. Shindler for giving us an insight into the reasons behind your campaigning – you’re an inspiration to us all!

Here are links to some Press articles about Harry and his work:

Harry receives his MBE

War Graves work

Wanted in

Bremainers Ask…. Kyle Taylor, Director Fair Vote Project

Bremainers Ask…. Kyle Taylor, Director Fair Vote Project

In the fourth of our exclusive Bremain interviews with high profile Remain activists, we meet Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote Project. Kyle set up the project in the wake of whistleblower allegations relating to global data misappropriation and law-breaking in the EU Referendum.

Kyle Taylor

Based in London, United Kingdom, Kyle Taylor is the founder and director of The Fair Vote Project which is focused on lasting reform, campaigning for fundamental changes to the Electoral Commission and a Digital Bill of Rights for Democracy. He also works across a range of progressive political, cause-based and social enterprise projects through his Social Enterprise: Overton Group, with a particular specialisation in Millennial and Gen Z engagement.

Previously, Kyle was the national campaign strategist for Best for Britain, one of the UK’s largest second referendum organisations. He has also campaigned for a binding government-sanctioned NHS and care convention, worked on a migrant rights campaign in the Middle East and regularly supports an international education charity across a range of areas.

He co-managed the coordinated campaign for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and in 2015 finished a four-year post as the Chief of Staff and Campaigns Director to the former Minister of State for Justice, Sir Simon Hughes. Kyle has lived on four continents and travelled and worked in over 100 countries.  He also enjoys taking on immense physical challenges to raise money for charity. He has run the London marathon, swam an opener water marathon in the English channel, trekked to Everest Base Camp and summited Mount Kilimanjaro twice, personally raising over £30,000 for various charities. Kyle was a Presidential Scholar at The American University and graduated Summa cum Laude in 2006 with two bachelor’s degrees. While there he served as Student Government President and was selected to be student commencement speaker. He gained a Master’s Degree with distinction in International Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2009.

Kyle is currently heading a legal challenge against the government, calling for a public inquiry into Brexit cheating

Fair Vote logo

Sian Shaw:What is the likely time frame for the legal process & how high do you rate your chances of success?”

Kyle Taylor: Legal processes can take quite a while but we believe our aim has a high chance of success because it’s a very reasonable request of the government. The goal is for a decision by the end of the year but for the claim to be in progress when Parliament debates whatever deal (or no deal) that has been secured to put additional pressure on MPs.”


Pam Wallace: There have been many court cases since Brexit and only one that has succeeded (Gina Miller). What do you see as different about this one?”

Kyle Taylor: I think what’s different about this case is the basis of its claim. This suit isn’t about the merits of Leave or Remain – it’s about the fundamental institution of democracy, how that was undermined and abused in the referendum and why that justifies proper scrutiny, reform and remedy. This is something that everyone should be able to get behind whether leave or remain because it’s so much bigger than a single issue. This is about the very fabric that is meant to hold our democratic society together.”

Kyle with Whistleblowers

Karen Watling: Bearing in mind the vitriol that the referendum has wrought setting friend against friend and family against family, how do you see the future of the UK?”

Kyle Taylor: I think – regardless of what happens with Brexit – we’re looking at another 5-10 years of discontent. I know that’s not an easy answer but I think it’s accurate. We’re at a crossroads as a country and, more broadly, as a collection of liberal democracies. This happens about every 100 years in the UK – a realignment of political parties and of the fundamental ideals that frame those parties’ core reason for being. This time, it’s the internationalists vs. the nativists. Brexit showed us this is the new fault line and no political party in its current iteration accurately represents those interests, leaving everyone feeling like they don’t REALLY have a proper partisan home. This realignment will be exhausting, fraught and complicated but in the end it will leave us with two new main parties that look and feel nothing like what they look and feel like now. The last thing I’ll say is that the core problem that will complicate this process is the propogation of “fake news” as it’s called. We need to – for the sake of democracy – fight the idea that there are mutliple truths immediately, incessantly and fully. A functioning society is dependent on shared information and shared experience. We’ve got to all be working from the same baseline truth and fact or else we’re genuinely living in alternate realities. There is a lot of work to do but I believe we can do it. Never give up. Never surrender!”

John Bentley: Are you working in conjunction with other groups, especially those trying to secure either a second Brexit referendum or a people’s vote on the deal?”

Kyle Taylor:Fair Vote is filing as the claimant but we very much welcome interventions from any and all interested parties. It’s important for the government, the courts and the public to see a broad range of organisations and individuals taking part in this case. Since the basis of our suit surrounds illegal activity in the referendum and our focus is on issues of democracy we are also hoping that organisations and individuals who supported leave but can see that some things – like safeguarding our democracy – are bigger than Brexit will also intervene.”

Kyle in Alicante
Barnstorm Feb 2018

Roy Stonebridge: “Is Internet and social media campaigning controllable?”

Kyle Taylor: “In short, the answer is yes. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re close to controlling these mediums. The biggest hurdles remain public awareness about these issues and lawmaker “literacy” around how digital spaces work. We’ve got 20th-Century lawmakers attempting to regulate 21st-Century technologies. The easiest “first step” is to require digital advertising to be treated the same as a leaflet that comes through a letterbox with an imprint so people know who sent it and from where. Couple that with an online database of all adds and easy access to targeting information (so people can find out exactly how and why something is showing up in their newsfeed) and we will be on our way. The next step is getting a full public inquiry started with a 12-month remit to investigate, take evidence and recommend immediate action to safeguard our democracy.”


Elspeth Williams: Long-term campaigning is exhausting. How do you keep focused, stay positive, pick yourself up after a bad day?”

Kyle Taylor: Oh my goodness, isn’t it?! This is particularly true when you feel like “your side” hasn’t had even a small victory in a long time. That’s because progress is always 8 little steps back then one GIANT step forward. I keep focussed – ironically – by checking out for at least an hour a day. I check out by watching an episode or two of my favourite TV show – Parks and Recreation – to get some inspiration from Leslie Knope. I also read fiction that’s entirely escapism every day. After a bad day I pick myself up by speaking to close friends while I fold laundry. I know it sounds bizarre but combining a mundane physical activity with “real” conversation to a close friend forces the brain to be fully present and pushes the bad day away. I also never make big decisions in the moment. Sleep on it and things inevitably make more sense the next day. I stay positive by remembering how many people there are working so hard to fight for what they believe in and also reminding myself that I am a very privileged person and with privilege comes responsibility to fight for those who aren’t able to.”

Barnstorm Alicante

Pat Kennedy: Can you give us one inspirational comment or quote to help keep us focused through this difficult time when it can be hard to keep optimistic.”

Kyle Taylor: My goodness, there are so many quotes that keep me going. I’ll share two that I have written on my wall: “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” – JFK. Have any truer words been spoken? “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton. This resonates with me more than anything else right now because we’re in an environment that those opposed to our point of view suggest somehow it’s anti-country or anti-democracy to believe passionately in what we believe in. This is always the tactic of the powerful to suppress those resisting wrong. Did the suffragettes stop when it got hard? No. Did the allied forces give up when the Nazis were storming across Europe? No. Fighting for what’s right, true and just is always worth it.”

You can find out more information at Fair Vote or on Twitter @fairvoteuk

Next month Bremainers will be putting questions to Votes for Life campaigner Harry Shindler MBE.