Sue Wilson Writes: What the Spanish festival of San Juan and Brexit have in common for Brits in Spain

Sue Wilson Writes: What the Spanish festival of San Juan and Brexit have in common for Brits in Spain

To remain friends!

On Sunday 23 June, I joined my Spanish friends and neighbours on my local beach to celebrate one of my favourite Spanish festivals of the year – San Juan.

Originally a pagan festival, San Juan became a celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, while harking back to its’ earlier roots of worshipping the sun – the provider of life.

I live on the Spanish Levante, where the event is celebrated with huge bonfires on the beaches. San Juan is a time of purification and renewal, and letting go of the past. Many people bring hand-written wishes to burn on the fire. Others use the bonfires to rid themselves of unwanted baggage, such as burning photos of an ex-partner.

A few brave souls jump over the bonfires – originally a way to cleanse oneself. Now, it’s merely a show of bravado and a bit of fun. Most people prefer to surround the bonfires, talking, eating, drinking and socialising. It’s an event that brings the whole village together, regardless of age.

The main entertainment of the evening was provided by stilt-walkers, giving the audience an elevated display of twirling fireworks and flames. For most of us, the highlight occurred at midnight. After fireworks had been lit and paper lanterns, representing our hopes and dreams, were launched, the crowd headed to the water’s edge. With trouser legs rolled up and footwear discarded, we walked into the ocean and jumped, as one, over 12 waves.

Over the years, I’ve heard different theories about the significance of jumping the waves and the required number of jumps. My favourite interpretation is that we have one jump for every month of the year, and I’ve now been cleansed of all my sins! I presume that includes my bad language.

Of course, for Brits living in Spain, 23 June is significant for another reason. It is the third anniversary of the Brexit referendum – an event that has dominated the lives of many people ever since that fateful day.

Some Brits who voted Leave have remained unconcerned about Brexit, believing – as they do – that little impact will be felt here. However, for those of us who want to remain in the EU, the fear and anxiety have been significant. Despite reassurances from all directions, nobody really knows what rights and benefits we might keep, as nobody knows what kind of Brexit will occur if, indeed, it occurs at all.

Any mention of a worst-case scenario, “no-deal” Brexit, adds to the stress and insecurity – especially when people are understandably concerned about any potential threat to their free healthcare and freedom of movement.

So, the San Juan fiesta brings mixed emotions – a reminder of a life-changing event that still haunts our daily lives, and a celebration of joy and hope, shared with the locals.

As I launched my paper lantern, I felt like a kid sending a Christmas wish to Santa Claus. I wasn’t wishing for the latest toy or gadget, but for a smidgeon of sanity in Westminster, and for the UK to have another say on its future.

My offering to the bonfire was a simple “Brexit” sign, as there’s nothing I would rather see crash and burn during the rest of 2019.

With our troubles going up in smoke and our wishes floating towards the heavens, we came away hopeful, grateful and feeling part of a local community of different nationalities.

That’s exactly how I feel about being an EU citizen. Long may I remain one!

Sue’s article is from The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: ‘An act of self-harm’: What my Spanish neighbours think of Brexit

Sue Wilson Writes: ‘An act of self-harm’: What my Spanish neighbours think of Brexit

When it does arise in conversation with Spanish friends, colleagues or neighbours, reactions range from incredulous to sad, bemused to offended.

Initially, my Spanish friends reacted to the 2016 referendum result with shock and disbelief. They couldn’t understand how millions of British citizens could vote to leave a union of neighbouring countries that they, personally, value so highly. They felt that we Brits had committed a hugely self-destructive act, and for no tangible reason. No argument from me!

At the time, many Brits living in Spain, me included, had scant knowledge about the EU and its role in our lives. Many of us simply took the rights and benefits afforded by EU membership for granted. We were happy to enjoy our daily existence in Spain, oblivious to the political goings-on in the UK – events in Westminster would have little effect on our lives in our adopted homeland, or so we thought. How wrong could we be?

When I first started campaigning to stay in the EU, an important element of that task was to communicate information and advice about Brexit as widely as possible. Initially, my communications were aimed at the British community in Spain. I confess that often proved a difficult task with those that voted to leave, despite them having made their homes in Europe.

The biggest hurdle was the fact that so many of them said, and still do, that “nothing will change”. Apparently, the Spanish “need us”, we “support the Spanish economy” and “we’ll get what we want because we’re British”.

The very fact that around a third of British citizens who have made their homes in Spain, actually voted to leave the EU is one fact that the Spanish still cannot fathom – “turkeys voting for Christmas” is an English idiom well-known to our Spanish friends now.

The need to communicate information to our Spanish friends and neighbours, as well as to our British ones, became increasingly apparent. The first task was to ensure the general public here that we hadn’t actually left the EU yet. The second was to convince them that Brexit was not inevitable – a task that became a whole lot easier once we didn’t leave the EU in March, or April, as planned.

When travelling, I repeatedly had to explain the Bremain in Spain strapline, “Brexit is Bonkers!”, to Spanish fellow-travellers who spotted my luggage stickers. Translating the “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers was rather more straightforward!

With my own Spanish friends, the most important point to communicate was that the result of the referendum did not reflect my personal views, or the views of the majority of the British population. They were and are genuinely interested in gaining a better understanding of what’s happening and what’s possible. Now they follow everything I am doing on the campaign front with great interest.

Any Brexit-related discussion with Spaniards inevitably leads to the treatment of Spanish citizens in the UK – a topic that fills me with shame. Thankfully, none of our Spanish friends’ families have personally experienced the racist abuse reported in the media. However, some have cancelled plans to spend time in the UK, or to move there, as they don’t feel assured of a warm welcome anymore. With that in mind, some have opted for Ireland or another EU country instead.

Despite the sadness and confusion surrounding Brexit, the Spanish people haven’t changed the way they treat British citizens. Our Spanish friends still call us their “English family” – much to the amusement of my Scottish husband! They welcome us into their lives and homes and are proud of people who aren’t taking Brexit lying down. They want us to stay in the EU, and in their homeland.

Since moving to Spain 12 years ago, it has felt like my “forever home”. Now I’m more convinced than ever that my future is here – but not simply because Brexit has turned my birthplace into a country I no longer recognise, or can take any pride in.

Spain is my home because of the Spanish people – their culture, their way of life, their passion, openness and kindness. The language is special too – “¡Cojones a Brexit!” does have a certain ring about it.

“Stop Brexit”, of course, requires no translation whatsoever.

Sue’s article taken from The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: New poll shows the people must get another say on Brexit

Sue Wilson Writes: New poll shows the people must get another say on Brexit

Sue speaking at the EUnite eventFor the last three years, politicians of all variations have been telling us what the British public wants, and what we voted for back in June 2016.

I’ve no idea how they can possibly know what we want, when they still can’t tell us how Brexit will look and are terrified of repeating the important question, in a second referendum.

In the case of remain voters, the UK government is probably correct in assuming that we did know what we wanted. We chose the status quo and voted to keep the benefits and rights we enjoy as EU citizens, even if we didn’t fully appreciate what we might lose.

It’s another matter when the government and pro-Brexit politicians claim to have had magic vision that enabled them to see into the minds of leave voters three years ago. All these voters elected to leave the EU, but the types of Brexit they envisaged were varied, from the softest Brexit (“you’ll barely notice the difference”), to the hardest WTO-terms Brexit. Did anyone even know what a soft or hard Brexit was at that stage? We were simply told it would be the easiest deal in history, and that Britain would enjoy a glorious future.

It is noticeable that many politicians, including Conservative party leadership candidates, have stopped repeating the well-worn mantras of 2016. Leave campaigners, such as Nigel Farage and MEP Daniel Hannan, stated back then that Brexit didn’t mean leaving the single market. Farage now sings a different song and is advocating the most damaging of Brexits – leaving with no deal at all.

Regardless of how leave voters pictured Brexit, they won’t all have the same vision now. Today, we know considerably more about what type of Brexit is possible and the implications for the British economy and citizens. Even with that knowledge, nothing is certain, with parliament failing to agree on the best way forward.

Amid the uncertainty, and the fear and anxiety experienced by Brits living in the EU, it’s important to consider how we feel now. We mustn’t make the same mistake as the British government and believe that one snapshot in time is the only moment worth considering.

On Friday 7th June, the results of an extensive new Brexit survey were published by YouGov. Many polls have aimed to establish if the British public has changed its mind, and whether the vote would go the same way in a second referendum.

The new survey sought to look deeper by examining respondents’ first, second and last choices and the strength of their opinions on each option. Previous assumptions, regardless of the type of Brexit, were that leave supporters wanted out of the EU more than remain supporters wanted to stay. According to this survey, the opposite is true.

Participants were given a choice between the Withdrawal Agreement (Theresa May’s negotiated deal), a softer Brexit, a no-deal Brexit, or staying in the EU. Each respondent listed the options in order of preference and weighted each one depending on whether they preferred it “a bit”, “a fair amount” or “a lot” more than other options. This weighting was an important factor in accurately gauging levels of support for the options, and to establish that a second-choice compromise would likely displease both sides equally.


CYouGov survery results. Chart by New Statesman

The analysis revealed that the majority of remainers would prefer staying in the EU significantly more than any other option and would, therefore, be unhappy with any other outcome. Leavers showed a strong first preference for exiting the EU, although with varied first choices. Many felt so negatively about any other Brexit option that 24% said they would prefer to remain than see their second choice implemented.

So, whichever Brexit course of action the government might choose, as well as making remain voters unhappy, it would upset many leave voters too.

It has been a while since we heard the over-used phrase, “the will of the people”, to justify a course of action that would please hardly anyone. The next resident of No. 10 would be well advised to listen to what the country is now saying or find their reign as Prime Minister the shortest in history.

If they are unsure what the country now wants, they really need to put the question back to the British people!

Sue’s article is from The Local

Sue Wilson Writes: Why Boris could be our best bet to stop Brexit

Sue Wilson Writes: Why Boris could be our best bet to stop Brexit

Sue WilsonSue Wilson of Bremain in Spain takes a look at the candidates for the next Tory leader and argues that a Brexiteer could be the best tool to stop Brexit.

Since Theresa May bowed to intense pressure from the Conservative Party and handed in her resignation, many people have asked: “is she the worst prime minister in living memory”? Having seen the list of potential leadership candidates and listened to their proposals, it’s tempting to add the words “thus far”. While I wouldn’t say “come back Theresa, all is forgiven”, many Brits living in Spain are wondering if her successor will worsen our fate. Currently, 13 candidates are vying for the top job and the tally is rising daily. It’s almost easier to list the members of May’s cabinet who aren’t throwing their hats into the ring!

Every candidate seems determined to deliver Brexit – including those who weren’t initially Brexit supporters. Most go a step further, stating that a no-deal Brexit should be kept on the table, even while expressing a firm desire to close a deal. Some, such as former cabinet members, Esther McVey and Dominic Raab, are willing to pursue no-deal as their preferred Brexit option. It is only Rory Stewart, secretary of state for international development, who is rightly stating that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the UK. 

Boris Johnson, currently the favourite candidate, has been uncharacteristically quiet since the leadership contest started. Perhaps he’s preoccupied with his court summons over allegations of lying to the British public. Maybe his lawyers are telling him to keep quiet, in case he says anything else incriminating.

Another common topic amongst leadership contenders is renegotiating a deal with the EU. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has stated categorically that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations are closed. In addition, the EU negotiating team is currently being disbanded, yet still we hear delusional talk of returning to Brussels to renegotiate. It’s clear from the candidates’ rhetoric that they’re not aiming their proposals at the country, but at those who can vote for them directly. Initially, that means the Conservative party MPs who will narrow the choice down to just two candidates. The final decision will be made by around 120,000 ageing Conservative Party members, predominantly Leave voters. That audience makes it unlikely that we’ll see any Remain/anti-Brexit leadership candidates – they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Brits in Spain are naturally worried that a new Prime Minister will further risk our citizens’ rights and make a no-deal Brexit more likely. The Spanish government has devised comprehensive plans to protect us if no-deal occurs, but those plans rely on reciprocity by the UK government. Some people are understandably cautious about relying on the Spanish government’s generosity, should the worst-case scenario become a reality.

While the more Brextremist leadership candidates are causing considerable concern, I would personally welcome a staunch Brexiteer as May’s replacement. The more extreme the new PM’s position on Brexit, the less support they’ll garner from parliament and the public. They’ll waste further time trying to renegotiate a deal with the EU that is already closed and trying to garner support in Westminster. The more extreme the proposals, the higher the level of rebellion that can be expected from parliament and the public alike. If I had one question for the leadership contenders, it would be: “why on earth do you want the job right now”? Surely, anyone with the skills, intelligence and humanity necessary to make a good prime minister would have the sense not to touch this poisoned chalice with 10 proverbial bargepoles tied together. With the impossibility of delivering Brexit, or gaining consensus in parliament to do so, the new prime minister will be faced with a stark choice. No-deal will be off the table – it’s the only option about which parliament is abundantly clear. Parliament has prevented no-deal before and will do so again. That only leaves putting the question back to the public, either through a general election or a second referendum.

The Conservative party, after its disastrous performance in the European elections and in recent polls, will want to avoid a general election at all costs. Theresa May might be remembered by future generations as the worst prime minister in modern history. The legacy of her successor could be as the shortest serving prime minister in history. I didn’t shed any tears for May and I won’t be shedding any for her successor either. Brexit is dead. How many more Prime Minister’s will it take before Westminster accepts that reality?

By Sue Wilson – Full article from The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: What the EU election results mean for those Brits in Europe fighting Brexit.

Sue Wilson Writes: What the EU election results mean for those Brits in Europe fighting Brexit.

On Sunday 26th May, British citizens throughout Spain joined their Spanish neighbours in voting – many for the first time – in local and European elections.

With a choice of voting for the EU elections in their ‘home’ or ‘host’ country, many Brits chose to vote in the UK to voice their opinions about Brexit. Others elected to vote in Spain. For some people, that was their only option, having been disenfranchised from voting in the UK.

Here in Spain, the experience of voting in the EU and local elections was quick and easy, and the ‘extranjero’ voters were welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, the experience for EU citizens in the UK was rather different, with many being turned away at polling booths. British citizens living abroad who had selected a postal vote faced significant problems, with ballot papers failing to arrive in time, if at all. This further disenfranchisement of British citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK caused a stir on social media, with #DeniedMyVote trending on Twitter.

Because of the outcry, British in Europe and the 3Million are examining the feasibility of a legal challenge over this issue, and questions have been raised in both Westminster and Brussels. Despite many hundreds of thousands of people being prevented from voting, the EU elections had the largest turnout across the continent for over two decades. The motivation for many voters, in the UK and across Europe, was clearly a desire to rally against the rise of the far-right. In the UK, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won the largest number of seats – although fewer than predicted. Most were taken directly from Ukip, which failed to retain a single seat. Voters failed to be impressed by party leader, Gerard Batten, and his sidekick – the notorious Tommy Robinson. Nigel Farage naturally claimed a massive victory and, as usual, garnered endless media attention. Remain campaigners pointed out that the Brexit Party’s ‘spin’ didn’t depict the whole picture. In fact, it was the Remain supporting parties – LibDems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Change.UK – that could rightly claim the victory, having secured around 40% of votes compared to the Brexit Party’s 35%. In fact, the number of seats for Brexit supporting parties (Brexit Party, Ukip and Conservatives) has declined by 10, compared to the 2014 EU election results.

The surge of voters abandoning the Conservative and Labour parties was significant, as was the considerable increase in seats for all explicitly pro-Remain/pro-referendum parties. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party had their best results to date – a position that was widely reflected across Europe. Concerns in Brussels that the far-right would gain increased support proved unfounded. In fact, the balance of the European Parliament has shifted more to the left, with an increase in both the Green and Liberal groupings. The ALDE group is now the largest group in the European parliament. In response to Labour’s poor showing, with their seats halved, Jeremy Corbyn said the Conservatives were “disintegrating and unable to govern” and, with parliament in deadlock, Brexit would have to go back to the people “through a general election or a public vote”. The Labour party leadership will now be under enormous pressure from its own MPs, MEPs and members to climb off the fence and fully support Remain and a #FinalSay referendum. With the Conservative party in disarray, and a leadership contest underway for the next Prime Minister, it remains to be seen how the EU election results will influence a newly-elected leader.

The number of potential candidates to replace Theresa May is increasing daily – there’s barely a cabinet minister that hasn’t thrown their hat into the ring! It seems likely that our new Prime Minister will be a Brexiter, possibly even a Brextremist. Many of the candidates are claiming that ‘no deal’ should be back on the table – or is the desired destination. It’s blatantly clear that the Conservatives are worried about Farage and his followers. However, the government could reflect that, perhaps, it’s facing in the wrong direction: the bigger threat is coming from pro-Europeans. We cannot deny that Farage and his Brexit Party machine have made a significant impact on British politics and will continue to influence events in Westminster. However, the pro-Europeans are still here, we’re growing in numbers, and we’re making progress.

More importantly, we’re still in the European Union! As re-elected Labour MEP Julie Ward said: “Every day we don’t Leave the EU is a day to Stop Brexit – the fight is on!” We’re ready!

Sue’s UK Trip May 2019

Sue’s UK Trip May 2019

Bremain in Spain Chair, Sue Wilson, spent a few days in the UK at the start of May 2019. Here is Sue’s story of what she got up to!

8 May

My whirlwind visit to the UK started with a meeting with LibDem MEP Catherine Bearder, who has been a passionate anti Brexit campaigner since before the Brexit referendum. Catherine has been very supportive of Bremain in Spain, & citizens’ rights issues, ever since we first met 3 years ago, so it is always a pleasure to catch up with her.

 Catherine Bearder and Sue

 

We talked about the forthcoming European elections & her current campaign to continue as an MEP, despite her involuntary retirement plans last March. Catherine spoke about the logistics of having to give up her accommodation in Brussels, not knowing whether she would be returning, & if so, for how long – a situation we can all empathise with, living in limbo as we do.

 

We also discussed Vince Cable’s imminent retirement, & the prospective candidates for LibDem leader (my lips are sealed!). It seems likely now that Cable will remain until after the EU elections results. We wish the Lib Dems well on 23 May, & hope that the success of the local elections is replicated in Brussels.

A very pleasant hour spent enjoying a chat & an English cuppa & tea-cake. I hope to be able to reciprocate the pleasure sometime soon with a Belgian pastry or two in Brussels!

In the evening, I attended an event in the Palace of Westminster to launch the Let Us Vote campaign. The event was hosted by Another Europe is possible, British in Europe and the 3Million, who are jointly responsible for the project. The campaign aim is to restore voting rights to 10 million people who are disenfranchised & unable to vote – both Brits abroad & foreign-born citizens resident in the UK.

Let Us Vote

The panel was made up of representatives of the groups involved, but also Claude Moraes (Labour MEP), Alberto Costa (Conservative MP) & Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Labour MP).

The passion & commitment from all those involved in the campaign was a joy to behold, & the audience were very engaged, asking lots of questions. There was also an opportunity to talk to the panel on a 1-2-1 basis afterwards & to network with many dedicated campaigners.

Whilst nobody expects that the campaign will be easy, or quick, with the commitment & passion shown, we all came away very positive about the chances of success. We will keep you posted about future developments as & when they happen.

For more information on the Let Us Vote Campaign, click here.

9 May

To celebrate Europe Day, I joined many flag waving campaigners on the Golden Sunrise cruise ship for an evening trip along the River Thames. The Europe Day Boat Party was hosted by the EU Flag Mafia – best known for their flag bombing appearances at the Albert Hall Proms. Entertainment was provided by EU Supergirl Madeleina Kay, Faux BoJo & EU Elvis, though my fellow travellers did quite a bit of singing too.

We sailed past the Houses of Parliament to choruses of Bollocks to Brexit, Revoke Article 50 & Stop Brexit, & many passers-by stopped on the bridges to wave & cheer.

It was a colourful affair, with flags of every EU nation being waved on decks &, of course, many EU flags. Naturally the Bremain in Spain flag got a good airing too!

SODEM

 

A good crowd of supporters turned up, & we all marched over Lambeth Bridge to congregate on the embankment, with a view of parliament behind us. Guy turned up in a coach with his entourage, made a speech – most of which I managed to get close enough to record – then spoke to Steve & was interviewed by the press. Steve then presented Guy with a goodie bag of SODEM memorabilia & thanked him for his support.

10 May

Thanks to an early heads-up from Catherine Bearder, I was able to change my plans & stay in London long enough to join SODEM & Steve Bray for their special visitor on Friday morning. Guy Verhofstadt was in London to campaign with Vince Cable & the LibDems, & had made arrangements to visit SODEM afterwards.

Sue and Guy Verhofstadt

It was almost impossible to speak to Guy for all the press & security, but I was fortunate as he recognised me – we met last year on his birthday in Brussels. Never one to miss an opportunity for a selfie, I took full advantage & got a quick one! The things I do for Bremain!

Not sure when I’ll next be back in the UK, but I’ll sure there will be a few Brexit-related events over the next few weeks & months to draw me in. Someone’s got to do it!

Your roving reporter – Sue Wilson