On 23rd June 2016, 26% of the UK population or 37% of the UK electorate voted to leave the European Union. Around 3 million people, including; EU nationals living in the UK, UK nationals living abroad and 16-17 year olds – those will be most affected by Brexit – were not given a say in their futures. People voted to leave for a plethora of often conflicting reasons because Brexit had no specificities, and still doesn’t to this day. Many people voted in ignorance because the level of political education in this country is shockingly poor. Our understanding of what the EU is and how it operates is abysmal; one of the most googled search terms after the referendum was “what is the EU?”. Beyond the lack of understanding about the EU, we were miss-sold the Brexit dream. We were promised unobtainable benefits and opportunities that won’t materialise, and we were told outright lies. But even when presented with the brutal facts, the evidence and rational argument to challenge their Brexit vision, Brexiteers don’t want to listen. Above all else, politics is about sentiment and emotion fuels people’s opinions more than facts and knowledge. People vote with their hearts not their heads and for some peculiar reason, the current tone of our political dialogue is a drum-banging nationalism that is hell bent on destroying 44 years of hard work by 27 nations.
The Leave campaign won the Brexit vote because they had a powerful strategy that engaged people’s emotions and inspired opposition to the EU. The Remain campaign was unprepared, half-hearted and, quite frankly, boring. Termed “Project Fear”, the campaign failed to gauge support for the European project and to challenge the claims touted by the opposition. The Remain campaign’s failure to gain public support, allowed Leave to dominate popular opinion. People were feeling economic pressure, feeling the strain on public services and seeing rising inequality in the UK. The fact that domestic policy was largely to blame for the deprivation in our country was irrelevant, the people wanted change and they wanted something to blame. The EU was essentially used as a scape goat for problems caused by the Tory austerity policy and the failings of UK government to implement EU policy on issues such as immigration. Lack of publicity for EU funded projects in regional areas such as the North of England and Wales led many residents to think that “the EU has done nothing for [them]”. The poor level of education and knowledge about the EU has also not helped, some voted thinking that we would instantaneously leave the EU overnight, blissfully unaware of how complex and costly the Brexit negotiations would be. Many people voted to Leave earnestly believing Boris Johnson’s unfounded claim that there would be more money for the NHS. Instead we are facing economic catastrophe; a depreciating currency, job losses as banks and businesses move abroad, skills shortages in the labour market, having to renegotiate 57 trade deals, as well as the endless list of negative social, cultural and environmental impacts. Like pushing a nation sized self-destruct button, Brexit will unquestionably damage all areas of the UK economy and society to one degree or another, but “the People have spoken” – So should we let them suffer their self-induced misery?
Democracy did not end on 24th June 2016. We have every right to keep making our arguments and have our voices heard. It is never too late to fight for what you believe in because we are not beaten until we give up the battle.
Well, I for one, didn’t vote for this ill-conceived Brexit future and contrary to what most leavers seem to believe, democracy did not end on 24th June 2016. We have every right to keep making our arguments and have our voices heard. It is never too late to fight for what you believe in because we are not beaten until we give up the battle. If we want what is best for this country we can’t be intimidated and we absolutely should not remain silent. In fact, since the Brexit vote a huge community of committed and passionate activists has developed to revive the lack lustre Remain campaign. I have been part of groups who have organised colourful protest stunts (such as, the EU Flags at the Proms, the “Judges on a bus” outside the Supreme Courts, and the “Brexit Wonderland” tea party on 29th March), marches, demonstrations and rallies, concerts and social events. I have connected with a community of performers who sing, write and perform musical protest songs at the events. I have managed to crowdfund 4 books, postcards, posters, Brexit xmas cards and other campaign materials with the support of the Remain community, who have also used my illustrations and designs for countless leaflets, vinyl banners and digital campaigns. The purpose of all these initiatives is to shift public opinion and change the dialogue about the EU in this country. We are European, loud and proud because membership of the EU is something to treasure and support.
Nonetheless, we have to bear in mind why the Remain campaign failed in the Referendum and learn from our mistakes. The crucial difference between the way the campaign was conducted and my approach to political activism, which you could describe as “Project Fun” not “Project Fear”. I want to inspire people to support the EU and engage with its work with a positive attitude. I want to inform and educate but in a fun, friendly and entertaining style that is going to engage a wider pool of citizens. I dress up in costumes because it attracts attention and makes people smile, which can lead to a conversation and a debate. As an artist, singer and writer, the weapons I have at my disposal are cartoons, illustrations, graphics, songs, comedy, books, stories, articles and I will continue to make use of the full arsenal I have at my disposal. I don’t want to be confrontational, i’m not an aggressive person, but something needs to be done to stop the UK from diving head first into disaster. So, I will continue to shout and sing, draw, write, debate, whatever it takes to save the place I call home from the impending disaster that Brexit is guaranteed to be.