Bristol for Europe: Indispensable or irresponsible?

Browse By

Flags waving, banners held high; were it not for megaphones and high-vis jackets you would be forgiven for thinking you had entered the set of Les Mis. However, this rally was not a call of revolution, but a protest against the “misrepresentation” of the will of the people, and to attempt to halt the Brexit process. “Exit from Brexit” was the slogan used on many placards, appropriately crowded around the base of King William III’s statue; one of our many European monarchs. While the crowd gradually gained momentum, the different factions from the South West took commemorative selfies and group photos. Represented were Bristolians, Bath for Europe and Devon for Europe amongst others: even a couple of particularly passionate protestors from Gibraltar. When the number of participants had swelled to its zenith, order was called. A few general rules were established: orderly behaviour, no swearing etc, and finally at around 13:55 the column of marchers set off in the general direction of College Green.

Speaking to the protestors, a common pattern soon emerged; most of the participants were not only against Brexit due to a lack of progress in negotiations, although this was a large part of their reasoning, but because they had been against Brexit since before the referendum. The main objective of the rally was to encourage other dissatisfied Brexiteers to join the anti-Brexit debate, however as we crossed Main Quay a couple of pedestrians accosted the march as being “unpatriotic”. It appears these individuals would not be swayed. To the credit of the marchers, the call-and-response of “What do we want? An end to Brexit! When do we want it? Now!” drowned out further remarks. After briefly holding up traffic by the Watershed, the mass of people finally reached their destination, with a reverberating welcome from Stephen Perry of Bristol for Europe, atop the grand stage set up prominently in front of City Hall.

An exciting line-up of speakers greeted the crowd, including Molly Scott Cato MEP, Darren Jones MP, Julie Girling MEP and Clare Moody MEP, along with a collection of activists and representatives from groups such as Scientists for EU. An impressively proportioned European Union Flag, originally from Romania, that had travelled across Europe to get to Bristol lay at the feet of the speakers. All were against both the idea of Brexit and how the government is handling the situation. In an interview with Berkeley Squares, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire stated that the rally was “standing up against the Tory disaster of Brexit”. Julie Girling put forward the point that “I don’t think that it was ever demonstrated what the ordinary person is going to get out of leaving [the EU]; I still don’t see it!” Compared with the incessant rhetoric of “Brexit means Brexit” from the cabinet, many of the reasons for remaining given appeared reasoned and well-delivered.

However, whilst many of the attendees made good points against proceeding with Brexit – repeatedly stating that the sole reason, or excuse, now given for Brexit is that “it is the will of the people” – many of the passers-by appeared unconvinced by the arguments put forward. “It’s past time we chose if to go ahead [with Brexit]”, commentated one pedestrian, “we’ll just have to make do with the best deal we get”. Whilst today’s rally, one of a number being held around the country this month, was supposed to raise media awareness of the growing proportion of the electorate who think it better we remain in the EU, I do not believe it has achieved its aims. At the time of writing two videos showing footage from the rally have been released, and a few social media updates have been posted, however no other prominent online news outlet seems to have acknowledged the rally’s existence, let alone reported on the issues with the government’s policies, despite a large turnout.

This may be taken as evidence that people would still prefer to stick to the Brexit deal until it fails, as suggested by some of the more disgruntled participators. I would tentatively suggest this reflects several years of non-participation in MEP elections; as a nation, we appear to feel it is not important to involve ourselves in European politics. As pointed out by Julie Girling, Bristol as a cosmopolitan city cannot ignore its international heritage and its multinational demographic. Whether you believe we should proceed with Brexit or not, I would encourage the reader to participate in political activity regarding Brexit, so that the government’s negotiations and stance truly “reflect the will of the people”.