The March for Europe – How the UK’s decision impacts us!

Thousands and thousands of people turned up to the ‘March for Europe’.

I asked them ‘what brings you down to Parliament Square to protest against Britain leaving the EU?’

I speak to a professor who was at the protest with her Canadian partner. She works for Imperial College on a project funded by the European Commission Research and Innovation FP7 programme. Science brings Dr Lucy Richards (not her real name) down to Parliament Square.

 

Lucy is working on a project with a large number of institutions across Europe mostly with Oxford, Liverpool and Birmingham. Her project consists of research into pathogen co-infections such as HIV combined with tuberculosis, malaria and hepatitis B and C. “The only way this project with multi-labs can get funded is through an organisation like the EU.

“University ministers have told us that they would simply buy their way back into these things (research funding grant schemes), but I do not believe a word they say, how can you trust anything they say if they do not even have a plan?”.

There is a risk now that UK researchers will lack funding if they do, they could miss out on £7.3bn which we receive from the EU. The UK also invests £5.4bn.

The UK could buy its way back into EU research funding, but we would not be an official member, we would be labelled an associate member. This means the UK would have to abide by EU laws as we would no longer have the right to be part of the decision making process. Talk about taking back control. Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), predicts the UK ‘would gain similar status to countries like Brazil, Kenya and China’. The UK is now being compared to countries like Switzerland where they are not able to participate in Horizon 2020 in response to Switzerland’s referendum where they blocked access to the employment market for Croatians. The effects this had on Switzerland are likely to occur in the UK, which explains scientists like Dr Lucy Richards and future scientists’ uncertainty.

“If we lose EU funding, and if the research budget gets cut – which is likely given the current economic problems UK is now facing – then I will have to move country (to) find my next job”. This is not a major issue for Lucy since she “has a science PhD and can access a visa to go anywhere” so her “freedom of movement won’t be curtailed by Brexit”. ” People with fewer qualifications, who may want to retire and open a business in another country: they are the ones who will face such severe restrictions and is just not fair”.

Prof Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan told the BBC 2 days ago that “these people {scientists like Lucy} need real reassurance about their future?”

“What would we do if over the next year or two if they all left? Because these are real people with families and careers to think about, and they will be much sought after by other countries – instability could lead to a short-term brain drain with us losing 16% of a highly skilled work force. These people need real reassurance about their future.”BBC Article

(if you want to read more on what may happen to UK’s research funding there are some really informative articles below)

“My partner is not British so if strong anti-immigrant feelings come up in this country we might have to leave.” – Dr Elizabeth Atkins

Lucy has a Canadian partner and is worried that if strong anti-immigrant feelings increase in the UK, that she and Tim will leave.

 

Lucy’s Canadian partner – Tim (not his real name)

Tim was able to vote in the EU referendum since Commonwealth citizens that reside in the UK can vote.

Having lived in this country for two and a half years, waking up to the news on Friday that Britain had decided to leave the EU came as a huge shock to for Tim. “I’ve always thought growing up that the UK was part of Europe … I never really understood the mindset of ‘Oh I don’t really feel like a part of Europe’ the sort of things you hear some Brits say”

What was most upsetting for Tim was that the “Leave campaign was so based on lies and misinformation, and fear rather than talking about real issues: it wasn’t a legitimate debate about what the benefits of the EU are. I think I’d feel a lot better about the decision if that was the basis of the decision, but it wasn’t”.

“The debate was about lies, about how much money would go to the UK; the votes weren’t even done being counted when the leave was already coming out breaking their promises they made – Nigel Farage, 4am, ‘oh yeah the 350 million for the NHS – that was a mistake'”.

This was what Tim was referencing:

A lot of Leave people woke up Friday morning going “Wait a minute, what did we vote for?”. Examples can be found in this article by the Huffington post.

A clip for you visual movie learners 🙂

 

 

“The focus was a Conservative power play, and it’s ridiculous that the rest of the country has to pay for that, when really this could have just been settled with a couple of Conservatives having a leadership race”.

Human Rights

I interviewed a group of friends who came to protest in defence of human rights.

“We are all here, pro-EU, (and) we think the referendum should never have happened because it was not a fair question to put to the people of the country

“We’re allowing the Tories to come in and negotiate legislation that replaces legal policies that we currently have with the European Union such as the  Habitats Directive (laws that ensure conservation of animals and plants), Framework Directive (legislations and regulations that work to reduce waste), as well as all these Articles (the banner the gentleman is holding)”. The banner consists of Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11 all from Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Articles from the European Convention on Human Rights came about in 1950 and was formed by the Council of Europe around the time of the creation of the EU after the two World Wars and great human atrocities across Europe.

One solicitor who attended the protest said the Council of Europe “tried to enshrine the rights that every human should have in one legislation, (and) this then formed the bedrock (the fundamental principles) of the EU”.

Just to clarify this does not mean that without the EU we would no longer have Human Rights, because it’s possible to be part of the Council of Europe without being part of the EU. However, all countries who have joined the EU first belonged to the Council of Europe, and all countries who are part of the EU hold the CoE’s values and principles. Campaigners felt that with the removal of the EU, its as if UK is drifting away from EU beliefs which stemmed from the Council of Europe’s beliefs and values. Those values include Human Rights.

This fear can be fed by the UK’s new Bill of Rights which would replace the  Human Rights Act (HRA). The Human Rights Act allows the European Convention of Human Rights to apply in UK courts. ‘The Conservatives have suggested a new Bill of Rights to replace the HRA … there are also certain devolution issues which would need to be overcome if the HRA were to be repealed. How would a new bill apply in Northern Ireland, which has been working towards its own rights framework? Would the Scotland Act 1998 need to be amended, as currently the Scottish Parliament cannot pass legislation which is incompatible with the HRA?’ – Parliament website

“Article 2 is the right to life, 3 – the right to freedom from torture inhuman degrading treatment, 5 – right to liberty, 6 – right to a fair trial, 8 – right to private family life meaning respect for your own views/religious views/family way of life, not having too much surveillance like in Russia where people were arrested without even being told what they were arrested for; and 10 freedom of expression which covers religious thought/political thought and 11 right to people’s assembly.

“If we left none of these Articles would apply to us anymore. Articles of major concern are 3 and 8 – though these rights are enshrined in the Human Rights Act, the Tories want to get rid of these. They will put in (their new) Bill of Rights: they don’t like the right to private family life and freedom from torture rights, because it limits the powers to deport suspected terrorists. Article 3 protects the terror suspect as you are not allowed to put someone on trial if the evidence has been obtained through torture, and you are not allowed to extradite them if there is a chance that they will be tortured. Why would the Tories want to change that?”. These are legitimate questions which I would like some answers to also.

“In December the Investigatory Powers Bill is expected to be implemented. This bill would legally allow our microphones and cameras to be turned on if  we were a suspect for a crime. Governments would legally be allowed to tap into our phones go through our emails, texts even our internet service provider which can then be used in the future.” The bill has just gone into House of Lords for its third reading on the 27th June. This is an issue because information can be analysed without a warrant. It is an infringement on privacy, restricts freedom of speech and causes citizens to lose trust in the state.

As I was reading up about this I couldn’t help but think ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ from George Orwell’s 1984.

 

Snippets from many conversations today:

I spoke to a man who was originally from Italy, Osvaldo. He grew up in Brazil and then moved to the UK, and he recently experienced some xenophobia. When cycling home, a car and his bicycle almost collided. He was furious because he almost got hit so when he confronted the car driver he was told “go back to your country, we voted you out”, after the car driver detected an accent in Osvaldo’s English.

I asked him what he felt about the referendum result, to which he responded “I have a boy who is British and 9 years old and I’m here for him. We enjoyed observing, learning about all the European cultures but now we’re not going to have any of that”

Osvaldo’s son is a musician and was very emotional in light of the Leave win, he says “Dad, I don’t want to live on an island alone isolated from everybody, I want to be able to travel around Europe and see the different cultures, try the different foods, the different clothes, different atmosphere”.

Another person I spoke to was a British English man, who attended the protest with his friends from countries all over Europe, including Italy and Sweden. “I’ve felt paralysed over the last seven days and wanted to get out and say something.

“I missed out on Tuesday’s protest since it was cancelled but saw photos of people over there and regretted not going anyways, so here I am today”.

I asked what his highlights were of the day, to which he responded the moment “when we were walking along, there were some Romanian builders holding their flags on scaffolding sites and everyone yelled at them ‘You’re welcome here’.

“Some weird ones too: a guy just came past now, came up to me and challenged me saying ‘You’re not British’ because my sign says ‘No Brex please, we’re British’, and I told him ‘Yes, I am’ … so yeah weird moments also.”photo 2 (3)

“Such an important matter to me, I had to attend. I was here on Tuesday as well and people on the street are here trying to make it really clear that we’re not for the referendum in the first place and whatever happens we are so completely against what happens, particularly racism and xenophobia.” Art Students.

 

Is there anything you’d want to say to those who voted Leave?

“I’d give them a hug and say ‘You’ve made a big mistake.'” – guy holding ‘No Brex please, we’re British’ sign.

How’s the atmosphere been for you today?

“Very positive atmosphere – feeling optimistic and I’m still going to continue learning French” – Dr Atkins.

“The atmosphere is more organised, a lot more numbers, less chanting because on Tuesday we were super loud as there were fewer people. It’s nice to see loads of people, parents have brought out their babies which they wouldn’t have done on Tuesday because of the weather”. Art Student from Greece.

I also met two lovely people who created this photo frame and the hashtag #Eunity and got many people to take a photo inside the frame to show support for the cause.

Eunity 2

Concerns people had with the EU referendum result:

“They {the Leave Campaign} lied to everybody, they put numbers that didn’t exist  – and it was proven that it didn’t exist – this isn’t democracy. They used democracy as a weapon, it is a ‘crime against responsibility’. In other countries you’d get impeached, like they did in (my home) Brazil (Dilma Rousseff)”

“They didn’t, and still don’t, have a plan!”

“Absolutely shattered about the result. I work in Academia, it’s very international. My boss is originally from China with Australian and British Nationality, my colleague Italian and his wife – Greek, their two kids speak English only and he was rushing around trying to sort out permanent residency status. Everyone is worried, everyone feels horrible nobody knows where their next grant funding is going to come from”

“Farage wants to divide Britain. What country wants to be isolated from the whole world in the 21st century, which country?”

“There are certainly problems with the EU but it would make more sense to stay and try to fix them”

“I proxy voted, loads of people were at Glastonbury and did not vote on the day. I don’t think they were bothered to go and sort out a proxy vote because they were complacent about the vote, because they thought we would remain in the EU”

“We should have been campaigning here last week, I think we were too complacent”.

Overall, there was a huge turnout for people coming to take part in the march for Europe. It was interesting to see the different reasons people showed up: science, human rights, social matters, and how the result affected everyone differently.

There were some ‘regrexiters’, but not everyone who voted Leave felt this way. I went to a talk at the Institute of Ideas last Wednesday, the majority of the room were Leave voters who were pleased with the result on Friday, and were optimistic about the future “this is our chance to shape the future, not bloody well sure we have a chance, but it’s worth a try”.

I feel the remain side lacked the passion and drive which the Leave campaign had when it came to the run up to the referendum. One lady even said the massive protest/rallies that had been happening since Friday should have happened before the referendum. I agree with the lady who described the Remain side as “too complacent”.

For me it’s concerning as a Muslim British ethnic minority to hear about rise in xenophobic attacks to people across the UK. I attended a public meeting in Parliament last Tuesday which the Fabian Society hosted, called ‘Where now for Britain, where now for Labour?’ and MP Seema Malhotra spoke of an ‘increase in racist incidences … cases where kids were shouted at on their way to schools’. This is not only concerning but frightening. That’s not to say that all leave voters are racist, but there are many who used the referendum result as permission to discriminate against minorities.

I also take issue with the removal of Human Rights from British law, as this would mean that if these rights were ever infringed upon by the British legal system, to defend yourself you would need to undertake the lengthy process of taking the UK to court in Strasbourg (home of the European Court of Human Rights). I feel that my rights, and those of others, would not be safeguarded as a result. This is a separate issue from the EU, but campaigners felt with the removal of the EU, it’s as if the UK is drifting away from EU beliefs which stemmed from those of the  Council of Europe. This may not be the case, but the current climate of racial hate suggests otherwise, and I think there needs to be reassurance that this new Bill of Rights caters to everyone’s human rights, every single British citizen regardless of race, religion, disability etc. That if there is a situation of rights abuse, there would not be a daunting process required to defend oneself.

Side Note

Talking to some Brexiters, they felt like the media exaggerates racial attacks as a way to “thwart Brexit” (speaker at Institute of Ideas discussion on Wednesday). Someone suggested that we should not “overstate racist attacks” and that “it would be wrong to suggest an outbreak”.This is a wrong approach, because victims of attacks feel their experiences are being denied or downplayed, which in some cases can be traumatic.

A step towards solving this, would be for more Leave voters to admit that in light of the referendum there has been a rise in xenophobic attacks, as well as getting involved in standing in solidarity with the victims.

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq18eeL7D9Vd8DhjMcLh9QQ

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/investigatorypowers.html

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/investigatorypowers/stages.html

Articles on implications for the UK’s research and development funds in science:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/06/researchers-deplore-uk-decision-leave-european-union

Is the Swiss model a Brexit solution?

The case for an Associate Membership of the European Union

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36653599

 

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