When people arose from their beds last Friday (31.01.2010), it might have seemed like any other day, with a cloudy and grey sky hanging over much of the country.
After more than three years of rollercoaster negotiations and nail biting votes in parliament, when the so-called Brexit Day finally came around, it initially seemed a bit of a non-event or anti-climax to me.
Yet, as a New Europeans campaigner and press officer for the day, I knew we had a job to do.
Our task was to cut through the noise of Brexit Day, in order to get an important message across .
As the UK officially left the EU, we wanted to tell the wartching world that the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Britons in Europe had still not been guaranteed.
And elsewhere in the country fellow New Europeans campaigners had been getting up even earlier than me to make their way to London.
Spanish NHS nurse Joan Pons Laplana, who has lived in the UK for 20 years and was named Nurse of the Year in 2018, had already been interviewed by Spanish radio, as he was boarding a train from Yorkshire at dawn.
In fact, Joan, who lives with his British wife and three children in Chesterfield, hardly stopped all day long, as he continued to answer calls from Spanish newspapers, radio and TV direct from London.
And I lost count of how many interviews had been arranged for New Europeans founder Roger Casale, also taking calls from the airport and train.
Polish equality community champion Rafal Skarbek, who cycled 2,000 kilometres from his home in Somerset to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to raise funds for the New Europeans Green Card campaign, was also boarding a train to London with his bicycle to spend the day campaigning with us.
Travelling down from Manchester to join us was also Romanian employment rights caseworker Raluca Enescu.
Bulgarians citizens Katarina Dimitrova and Kristiana Kuneva, who both live in London, would also be joining us.
Along with Avilia Zavarella, from the New Europeans head office, who had been busy sorting out all the practicalities for the day, such as getting our placards printed and delivered.
So after completing my own morning routine, walking my daughter to school, I jumped on the train into Westminster where I found myself at the heart of the scene set to stage a major evening street party organised by the Leave Means Leave Campaign and hosted by Nigel Farage.
As I crossed Parliament Square, heading for the statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett, to meet the rest of our group, the area around the square still didn’t seem all that busy considering such a historic day was upon us.
Yet there were signs of what was about to unfold with Union Jack flags draped over the square and clusters of people clad in the national colours already out and about mingling with the world’s media scattered around the square – in search of stories for that day’s news bulletin.
Many of the media present were in fact hanging about waiting for us, as we were about to make a stand on Brexit Day.
Everyone from American and Asian broadcasters to European TV stations and some of Europe’s major newspapers were present.
Once our group had gathered we formed a close semi-circle enabling photographers to fully capture the seven placards we held up to form our citizens’ rights slogan for the world to see on Brexit Day:
“Don’t Let Citizens Pay the Price of Brexit”
Our goal was to put the spotlight on the lives of #the5million (3.6 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.4 million Britons in Europe), whose lives have been in limbo since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Addressing the crowd Roger Casale said:
“This is a historic day for Britain and the EU, and we should not let it pass without reminding people watching that the rights of EU citizens in Briton and Britons in the EU are still not fully guaranteed.”
British actor and writer Kate Willoughby, then came into her element performing as suffragette Emily Davison, giving a rousing speech in front of the statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett.
Kate’s trademark ‘Courage Calls’ speech is inspired by the words of Davison, which are quoted on the banner that Millicent Fawcett can be seen holding on her statue:
“Courage calls to courage everywhere and its voice cannot be denied!”
Kate’s speech was followed by testimonies from Joan, Rafal, Raluca and myself of how our status in the UK has been left in limbo since the 2016 referendum.
Joan has already been questioned about his status in the UK, called for the introduction of an EU Green Card.
“The government needs to do the right thing and stop playing games with people’s rights.
An #EUGreenCard will not only give me physical proof of settled status, it will also make my life a lot easier every time I go through customs or every time I want to open a bank account or apply for a job.”
Our daytime press call was followed by an evening candlelit vigil outside Europe House on Smith Square, which attracted around a hundred supporters.
The vigil was another way of showing that the rights of EU Citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU are not yet fully guaranteed by shining a light for citizens’ rights.
Once again we took the opportunity to once again hold up their placards forming the slogan: Don’t Make Citizens Pay Price of Brexit.
And undeterred by boos and aggressive singing from a group of Brexiteers, who had gathered on the other side of the square and separated by a police cordon, we once again addressed the media crowd, along with supporters huddling around them to form a protective shield.
We really felt solidarity and warmth from the supporting crowd, as we were shouted at by a loud group of hardline Brexiteers from the other side of the square as police formed a cordon between us. Eventually they moved on.
Candles were lit as we gathered with people taking photographs to post on social media.
We also urged people all around Europe to light a candle and post it on social media.
Hence we kept the light shining for citizens’ rights on a dark Brexit Day.
And we got our message across to a watching world:
Don't Make Citizens Pay Price of Brexit
About the author
Else Kvist is a freelance journalist and TV researcher from Denmark. She has lived in London for 27 years.
Else began campaigning with New Europeans in 2019 when she was denied her vote in the European elections,
About New Europeans
New Europeans is an award-winning civil rights organisation based in London and Brussels. It is a membership association working for a Europe of citizens, a Europe of equality, social justice, anchored in human rights.
Since 2013, New Europeans has been at the forefront of the fight to secure the rights of #the5million - EU citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU - post Brexit.
To join New Europeans, click here