I’m not an activist. But on 15th December 2017, I became one in my spare time, when I was driven to start a twitter account called @RemainerNow.
My first tweet read: “There is a lot of evidence that public opinion is turning against #Brexit - many people who voted #leave in #EUREF regret their decision now the facts are clear. This account has been set up to share stories of those who are #Remainernow & have been brave enough to say!”
I did not know what to expect when I started it. I did not know if anyone would even pick up on it. However, in the first few weeks it grew rapidly. I gained new followers at a rate of about 100 a day, many of who were active in liking, retweeting and replying to stories I shared of those EU Referendum Leave voters who had boldly come out and said that, now they have seen the way Brexit is going and what it may mean for the UK, they are a #Remainernow. To say it’s ok to change your mind and want Brexit to stop, by way of another public vote on the reality of Brexit or otherwise.
3 months on, my little account had grown into a full-fledged campaign.
In the weeks and months that followed this initiative expanded even more.
There’s already a Facebook group to reach new audiences. And we now have this website that will allow regretful leave voters to share their stories and to chat. The site will also include a regular blog where I (and others) can share just a small sample of the stories/blogs/tweet threads and letters I have come across from these people who, even when faced with what can at times be an ugly and divisive issue, have said “it’s ok to change my mind”.
There are also plans for events, merchandise and we will continue to help to get those regretful leavers who want to share get their stories to press, like we did with Josh, Dami and Charles to name a few. I am very hopeful that all these steps will will encourage others who feel that, now they have seen how the Government has interpreted (or misinterpreted) their leave vote, and have seen where the country is headed, to speak out and add their voices to those already saying they want the UK to change course.
I am staying partially anonymous, and that’s deliberate, not because I am afraid of attacks and critique, but because I have not, and will not be doing this for any sort of recognition. I am not a journalist or politician. I am not the story. I am doing it because I feel it’s right, and to help all those people out there who regret voting leave (for so many reasons) to feel it’s ok to come out and say it.
But I do feel that knowing my motivation might make people feel more able or more comfortable to contribute, so this first blog, just this once, is about me.
Am I a #Remainernow myself?
In short, no, I voted Remain and, if I am honest, I never even considered voting Leave.
Whilst recognising it is not in any way perfect, and most certainly needs some reform, I have always been pro-EU.
This is primarily because:
a. Peace - As a keen historian (up to A-level anyway) I recognise the EU's importance as a peace project.
b. Economics - As part of a wider A-level economics trip to London in 2002 I attended a talk on the EU by Ken Clarke MP. He talked passionately about the benefits of free trade and regulatory alignment with our nearest neighbours and this stuck with me & has only grown since.
And there are so many other reasons I am more pro EU/anti-Brexit now than I was even at the time of the vote, such as the horrific uncertainty for all the EU citizens (who add so much to this country), the terrible mess about what Brexit means for the Irish border, or the fact the Government and Parliament can’t really deal with anything else but Brexit... but these above were my two main reasons at the time.
Was I political before?
No, not before David Cameron announced the EU Referendum in February 2016. I had always voted in General Elections and, if I was able, local and EU elections, and I was interested in things like constitutional & electoral reform from some of my studies, but that was about it.
That all changed when the EU Referendum was called, when, due to my long-held views of the benefits of the EU, I suddenly became much more interested. I followed the campaigns closely, I watched the debates and I shared various articles on Facebook etc. But, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't campaign at all. This was partly for personal reasons (my first child was born in March 2016 so much of my spare time was spent enjoying time with her, and helping my wife) but it was also because I did not think I needed to.
Maybe it was due to being a 31-year-old working in London where nearly all my peers were Remainers, but I never thought for one second the referendum would result in a Leave vote. Out of the people I did speak to during the campaigns, only 2 or 3 were planning to vote Leave and these were for long-held ideological reasons regarding sovereignty.
I thought it would only be people like them, and far right UKIP supporters, that would vote Leave. (Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Remain campaign was poor. It failed to properly publicise all of benefits that EU membership brings us, and things like the threat of a ‘punishment budget’ lacked credibility and distracted from the more truthful predictions). Nevertheless, I thought for everyone apart from these two groups, the economic evidence would win out, and Remain would sail through. I did not appreciate all of the other reasons why (that I more than appreciate now, and which I will return to later) so many people would feel their best option was voting Leave.
So, from dismayed citizen to activist.
Now onto the main reason I am disrupting my life and that of my young family by doing this, and why have I been spending so much of my limited free time over the past months running an anonymous twitter account seeking out #bregretters...
I hope what follows will resonate with some, and if it encourages even just a handful of people who feel like me to increase efforts or, more importantly, if it encourages a number of #bregretters to step forward and speak out, it is certainly worth it.
As I explained above, I never thought the UK was in danger of voting to leave the EU, I was in fact on holiday that week with my wife and 3-month-old (both of us having sent off postal votes the week before). When the result was announced, I was in complete shock and the last two days of my holiday, totally ruined.
I couldn't understand it.
How could the UK vote against its economic security?
I did not to know what to think of the 17.4 million leave voters - were they all ideologues like my two friends? Was it a lack of understanding?
Were they racist? I am ashamed to say I did a couple of emotive Facebook posts to that effect in the early hours of 24 June when I turned on the radio and heard the results coming through, and I apologise for that. I honestly feared what all this would mean for my daughter’s future and our country.
However, when I returned to work the next Monday I came across my first #bregretter – someone I was working with at the time.
We were out for lunch with a 16-year-old work experience student and the conversation inevitably turned to the referendum. I could not hide my despair at the whole situation! To my surprise my colleague explained that she voted leave on the spur of the moment in the booth because (a) she'd always voted Labour so wanted to vote against the Tory PM; and (b) her friends were voting leave for the same reason. She told me she instantly regretted it the next morning when she saw the chaos; she had just wanted to protest!
This opened my eyes a fair bit, and I quickly started to realise that many leave voters probably didn't have the UKIP view of Britain I had feared. So, I found my anger turned away from the voters, and towards the politicians that had misled them, often for their own personal gain (Boris Johnson was attempting to be PM at the time).
Although I did not do any proper anti-Brexit campaigning at the start (for various reasons including family ones), over the summer of 2016, which I now see as being vital, I started educating myself about why the leave vote happened. I read lots of articles on the topic when I came across them on twitter etc. and I remember watching a programme with Adrian Chiles called "Why we voted Leave". Again, these opened my eyes to the fact many “leavers” had completely understandable reasons for their vote against the status quo and I completely empathised with them. I mainly stayed angry at the politicians who advocated it.
I continued to follow Brexit closely.
I was disgusted by May's ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech at the party conference in the autumn of 2016.
I was dismayed when, in March 2017, after the Miller case gave MPs the chance to do their jobs and act in their constituents best interests, all but a few honourable MPs waved through the Article 50 legislation almost unchallenged.
When Theresa May called the snap General Election requesting a mandate for her Brexit plan, I was petrified.
May had proven over the prior 9 months that she was only listening to the Hard Right of her party, and the right wing press, rather than finding some common ground that also recognized both the wishes of the 48%, and those of "soft" leavers and would minimize the economic harm of Brexit.
I was convinced (with polling as it was) the Conservatives would win a stonking majority and that would be it, the hardest of hard Brexits and all the economic pain and damage to international reputation that would come with it. Despite what I had going on with both work and family, I did my first ever on the ground political campaigning at the 2017 General Election for one of the parties which I had joined the year before. I also did a bit on Twitter, and finally (like many others who felt like me) I spent a lot of time on the Pro-EU Facebook groups encouraging tactical voting and vote swaps. Anything I could think of to try and limit May's majority and thwart her imagined Hard Brexit mandate.
I was so happy when that exit poll came out and it looked like we were heading to a hung parliament.
I realized that there would now be a chance to #StopBrexit, or at least ensure Single Market membership was maintained. And for the first time, I felt I could change the outcome, that my voice mattered, maybe even more than my vote. This led to me upping my activism, but this still mainly involved me increasing the frequency of emailing my MP (which I had done for the first time in late June 2016), predominately about the key Brexit-related votes.
The tipping point and the start of a movement...
As I said above, ever since the Referendum, I had been interested in understanding the reasons why people voted Leave. I had also been noticing a gradually increasing number of people expressing #bregret on twitter.
Their reasons varied: “there would in fact be no money for the NHS”; “it was all too complicated”; “a multiple €billion divorce bill”; “they had only voted leave on the basis that we would stay in the Single Market (after all many leave politicians had advocated as such)”.
I read them all with interest, but did not engage too much.
Then, in the late summer and early autumn of 2017, I came across three #bregretters whose stories I found really interesting.
All three had started, not just to speak out that they regretted their decision, but were also all now campaigning against Brexit.
I read their blogs/threads/letters to their MPs they had written explaining their reasons for voting Leave, and why they had changed their minds. I followed these three (Tim from the Midlands, Hugh from Westcountry and Simon from the North West) closely, and they gave me invaluable understanding to why so many people voted Leave and why these three, in particular now had #bregret.
Reading their stories, and seeing how they interacted with other people about Brexit, got me thinking. I had not come across anyone properly trying to work with #bregretters to encourage them to speak out (it turns out a few others had been collecting evidence, but I did not know this at the time). And the seed for @Remainernow was sown.
From November 2017, a number of things happened in a short period, that made me realise I had to do more than I had been, to fight what I believe is a complete and utter #brexitshambles which will severely damage the country I love.
The first thing to occur was Nick Clegg published a book called “How to Stop Brexit (and Make Britain great Again)” and I dropped a hint to my wife about Christmas gift ideas. She instead bought it for me then and there, and I read it in a weekend. Some people now cringe when Nick Clegg’s name is mentioned, but whatever you think of the Coalition, if you believe in fighting Brexit, give it a chance, and recognise the truth in what he has to say on this issue. For what it's worth, this point about Clegg, also applies to Tony Blair, even if you hate him for some, or many, of things he did in Government, you have to respect that in his recent interventions on #Brexit he is on the money.
Indeed, the same applies to Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine, whatever your thoughts of them in Government, the fact that they are publicly hammering Brexit as total folly should be championed!
This is a cross-party issue.
I found Clegg’s book both inspiring and uplifting. Within it (after explaining why it is right and not undemocratic to stop Brexit) he encourages people to get out there, to join political parties and pro-EU groups.
That evening I signed up to my closest pro-EU group at the time, Islington In Europe, and ensured I was on the mailing lists for a number of national pro-EU groups (Best for Britain, Open Britain and European Movement – I had followed some of them for some time but only from a distance) to ensure I was aware what is going on, as I realised more needed to be done.
My next reason for doing more to fight at this particular point, was very personal.
My wife and I had our 12 week scan for our 2nd child a few days later, I was obviously very excited, but I realised that, if Brexit goes ahead, and it harms the country as much as I fear, I want to be able to look both my kids in the eye when they are older and tell them I at least fought against it in an effort to protect their futures.
I just needed to decide how best to do it.
Then in early December 2017, it was revealed that David Davis (the Brexit Secretary) had failed to do any impact assessments into what his department’s Brexit plans would mean for the UK after an entire 16 months in office! I was absolutely livid.
In what other job can you make a huge decision like this without doing a cost benefit analysis of the different options? No business leader, doctor, or lawyer would act this way, and they are not making decisions that could affect the prosperity of an entire country for generations to come!
That evening, I started doing a bit of research on whether a criminal case could be brought against him for malfeasance in public office? Or perhaps a negligence claim for breach of duty?
I didn't pursue these, as it seems the bar is quite high particularly for the criminal charge, so I will leave it to lawyers who are actually experts in the field to tackle. But what the anger did do was make me join my first ever political protest - outside parliament - on a freezing cold Monday night on 11th December 2017.
Whilst there I got chatting to two people who it turns out run anti-Brexit twitter accounts I had been following. These are @EUflagmafia & @wooferendum (please check them out to see the great things they are doing). I had really interesting chats with both of these guys about what they were doing, and their motivations, and was hugely inspired by them. This was yet another push to do something similar.
Finally, later that week I came across an exchange between two #Remainernow ladies in response to a tweet from Martin Lewis, the ‘Money Saving Expert’, about Brexit. A lady called Julie expressed her #bregret, and stated that she felt her vote had been “formed on lies and deception and I don’t like being fooled”, and then a lady called Anne simply replied with, “Me too….grrr!”
It was Julie’s tweet in reply, “If more people who feel like us… and I am certain there are many, felt able to speak out too the numbers would be powerful…” that was the final push.
Julie had just stated in a tweet something I had been thinking for months, and that evening I started @RemainerNow with Julie’s message being one of the first examples of #bregret I shared.
Just 3 months later, the account had in excess of 6,000 followers (now over 8,000) including a number of MEPs, MPs and Journalists, and it’s helped enable like-minded Leave voters, who have changed their minds and do not want Brexit to happen, to connect, encourage each other, and share their stories. And what’s more, these #bregretters are finding themselves welcomed into a community of pro-EU people like myself, happy to learn more from their experiences.
I continue to come across a number of new #bregretters every day. So what now?
I read a piece in the New European newspaper a while ago, which said: “It's beyond time MPs stopped parroting this 'The People have spoken' nonsense and started, instead, to represent The People's interests. The vote of 23 June, 2016 was always about so much more than Membership of the European Union. George Osborne's austerity, trolleys in hospital corridors, an utter absence of social strategy, underinvestment in infrastructure, the size of our kid's classrooms, the queues at our GP.”
My experience over the previous summer, following #bregretters, and particularly during 2018 during when I have engaged with hundreds more, confirms that, at least for a significant portion of Leave voters this holds true.
I know from conversing with so many people that there are a multitude of reasons why people voted to quit the EU, and over the coming series of articles/blogs, I will be sharing different stories every week to spotlight a few of these from the people who made those choices.
I believe Brexit must be stopped. But, it should not be stopped for or by people like me, or for the politicians speaking out for the cause.
It should be stopped for people like Hugh, Simon, Tim, Julie, Josh, Emma, Dami, Luke and all of the other Leave voters who feel Brexit delivered will be nothing at all like the Brexit advertised.
It should also be stopped for our kids and grandkids - those who will have to live the longest with its ramifications.
So for these people, my friends and family, present and future, I am not just going to run the @Remainernow twitter account and work to expand the initiative in the ways I explained at the start of this piece. I am doing all the things I encourage all #RemainerNow people to do.
I have done and will continue to join pro-eu groups for action days, making it clear that Brexit is not a done deal.
I will continue to write letters to my MP.
And, if we are successful in preventing Brexit (and every day I get more confident we will), massive lessons must be learnt!
The reasons so many voted Leave out of protest, disaffection and neglect are all still there, and must be dealt with. It’s just that #Brexit, in any form - as confirmed by the leaked government impact studies - will make all these far, far worse.
So let’s first stop Brexit, and allow Parliament to do what it is supposed to do - spend its time on making this country better, and dealing with the causes of Brexit - because at the moment, they have no time to do so.
If anything I have said here resonates with you, either as a Leave voter with #bregret, or as a passionate Remain voter looking to support these people that speak out, please sign up to this website, follow @Remainernow on Twitter or Facebook, or volunteer to help this campaign, and please above all, share your stories. As I have said before, your voices are the ones that can make the change I believe this country needs.