Britain for Europe and Brighton and Hove for the European Union hosted a “Stop Brexit” rally with speeches, a panel debate chaired by Polly Toynbee, comedy and music at Brighton Dome last Sunday 25 September.
Professor A C Grayling was the keynote speaker and he opened his remarks by criticising the Labour Party for not singing the right song. Already, he said, Britain is losing funds from the EU and businesses who are relocating, finding better infrastructure and better working conditions in Europe. He said: “We must stop Brexit sooner rather than later. Europe cherishes civil liberties, progress and a rational cooperative way, the EU is a wonderful model of cooperation.”
Mr Grayling said the alternative is less money for public services, “a low tax, deregulated, offshore economy.” He said people who voted leave had very few reasons, they don’t have reasons so much as feelings. He urged the remain camp to tell their story and win back the Brexiteers, to fill the bins of MPs with letters, to stay determined.
“Brexit is politically illegitimate and constitutionally improper,” said Mr Grayling. “The franchise excludes 16-17 year olds, expats living abroad and EU nationals living in the UK. They should have had a voice, only 37% of the electorate voted leave. That is not a mandate for a major constitutional change.”
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas spoke next and said Britain must remain welcoming. “We are here to say Britain is better than that.” She said the Prime Minister has no mandate: “She went to our electorate and she lost and we must never let her forget that.”
She said she was furious about the EU Withdrawal Bill because it takes sovereignty away from the people and Parliament.
And she had a message for the Labour Party: “You cannot be in favour of leaving the EU and in favour of ending austerity.
“Freedom of movement for young people is a precious gift, she said, to travel, live, work, fall in love with people from 27 countries. I am truly sorry for our young people, whom Brexit is betraying.”
She concluded by saying it is not migrants who are responsible for austerity, it is the Government that is responsible.
Guardian Columnist Polly Toynbee then chaired a panel debate with questions. Seb Dance is a Labour MEP representing London, Johnathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party, Catherine West is Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Ian Dunt is an author editor of and Darren Jones is Labour MP for Bristol North West.
Mr Dance opened the debate by saying: “We won’t get anywhere by lying to the electorate.” As evidence he cited the depreciation of sterling and goods, EU nationals leaving the NHS and companies relocating. “A two year transition gives them time to move.
“We have to be ones to tell the truth. Be honest about the problems linked to Brexit, there is no shift in attitude yet,” Mr Dance said.
Mr Bartley said we have to change attitudes, particularly around migration. He said: “It’s so desperately sad, the whole agenda around migration has been hijacked. The Green Party is an insurgent party, we shift agendas… Both Labour and the Tories have failed with migration, their hostile environment. I have visited Calais, Dunkirk and UK detention centres where instead of welcoming migrants, people are detained indefinitely. You have to say very clearly, ‘no, no, no!’”
Mr Dunt said that Tony Blair could be useful in helping make the case for remain even if some people dislike some of his policies. He said up to 50% of the electorate are soft Brexit or soft Remain voters and these are the people the campaign should target.
Labour MP Ms West said civic education was critical to counter the negative narratives in the right wing press.
Mr Dance said: “How do you change the rules of the club if you leave the club and spent the last six months telling the club it was wrong?”
Explaining about his roots, Mr Jones said his constituency includes the council estate where he grew up: “Every Friday at surgery it breaks your heart: people stuck in awful housing and nurses going to foodbanks.
“Labour can’t help them in opposition, we need to be in government,” according to Mr Jones.
He said economic prosperity is required to fund the NHS. He thinks people voted leave out of desperation but said: “This self-harm will hurt them the most.”
Linda Dalgleish asked a question about the need to respect the will of the people who voted leave in the referendum.
The message from the EU referendum was clear, Mr Dunt said: “People don’t like the way things are, so they give the whole system a damn good kicking.” Later he said: “We need another referendum, another popular vote. Popular votes are not frozen in time. But people who give easy answers to difficult questions cannot be trusted.”
Since the Scottish independence referendum, Mr Bartley said, people are becoming more politically mature, using YABE campaigning, there are ground for optimism.
Ms West said that EU families are being split up, she said tell their stories to win the arguments.
Peter Harbet from Abingdon asked if European Citizenship would be an option for people left out and unable to work. He said: “If I fall ill in my old age how will I get to my family in Europe?
European citizenship is complex to introduce because most member states don’t want it, according to Mr Dance, and they will see it as yet another benefit for Britain, the country that is leaving.
Ms West said she fears realignment with America and a denial of climate change. She said we need to reframe the debate, giving people the facts about the NHS: “It’s about how we educate people who ignore the wonderful history since the Second World War. We need to teach our own history again. My uncle is buried at Passchendaele. We must reframe the question of fear.”
Mr Jones said: “We must make the emotional, economic case to protect jobs, increase wages and fund public services.”
Partners sponsoring the event included Brighton and Hove for the European Union, Britain for Europe, the European Movement UK and Scientists for the EU.
This article was also published in Brighton and Hove News.