Towards new horizons

Actor and writer Kate Willoughby, who heads up New Europeans campaigns, shares a cuppa with Danish UK/Ireland correspondent Mette Rodgers to discuss what went wrong with the remain campaign and the way forward.
Actor and writer Kate Willoughby, who heads up New Europeans campaigns, shares a cuppa with Danish UK/Ireland correspondent Mette Rodgers to discuss what went wrong with the remain campaign and the way forward.

After nearly four years of bitter fighting, Britain finally leaves the EU.

This article was first published in the weekly national Danish newspaper Weekendavisen (Weekend Paper) on 31.01.2020 and is reproduced here by kind permission.

Brexiteer Wendy Garcarz looks forward to a more equal, fair and globally oriented UK.

Remainer Kate Willoughby seeks solace and inspiration in the suffragettes' patient struggle.

On Friday, 31 January, at 11pm, Wendy Garcarz and her husband, Andrew, open a good bottle of something and quietly raise their glasses.

“We will certainly hoist the Union Jack. We are not celebrating that we won the battle over Brussels, but that the will of the people will now be heard.

"Parliament is finally doing what it should have done a long time ago,” 

Over a latte at a cafe in the Lichfield Trent Valley in the English Midlands, Wendy says

"17.4 million of us voted 'out' but 460 MPs decided they knew better than us and did everything that was in their power to make us stay," 

Wendy says it was this disregard for the outcome of the 2016 EU vote that led her, a self-employed businesswoman - and lifelong socialist - to stand for the Brexit Party in last December's election.

She says

"We have been treated in the most disgraceful way. 

They have ridiculed us, all the parliamentarians who went on TV ,

They  said we were stupid and didn't know what we were voting for."

Looking back and looking slightly upset, she issues a warning a little too late: 

"That is no way to treat people. If you treat us like idiots, then we strike again.

That's what happened at the election."

In the capital, 170 miles south of there, Yorkshire-born actor and writer Kate Willoughby is still recovering from the staggering defeat suffered by the remain parties in the same election. 

A result that once and for all ended the campaign for another referendum, a People's Vote, which she has been involved with. 

"It was terrible. And I had a really hard time with their triumphant behaviour in Parliament the week after.

I had to have a break from my WhatsApp groups and take some time out over Christmas.

Now, I feel I have been able to take stock and that I'm in a better place, and able to move on,” 

says Kate Willoughby, who marks Brexit Day with a return to campaign life.​

On Friday, the actor and writer will again put her hair up and don her trademark attire - dark jacket and long skirt, associated with women's rights advocate Emily Davison's, along with the white and green sash worn by the suffragette movement.

As she participates in a silent demonstration with like-minded campaigners across the country to send a signal to the rest of Europe that there are still Brits who want to preserve human and cultural connections with the continent.​

The idea of drawing parallels between the suffragette movement - who fought for women's right to vote at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries - and the fight for a People's Vote and the rights of EU citizens came to her after she played Emily Davison in a theatre play.

It would inject emotion and creativity into the remain campaign, she felt, but her offer of help was rejected by the official People's Vote campaign. 

Willoughby therefore recognises and has empathy with Wendy Garcarz’ feeling of being ignored by people who think they know better. 

“There is a lot of anger within the movement. Many of the activists are frustrated with the corporate approach taken by the campaign management.

A 'we know better' attitude. I think that's where the campaign failed. It was down to arrogance," 

Willoughby sighs over a cup of tea in the old Spitalfields area of London. 

However, she does not feel that the idea of an affirmative referendum was in itself anti-democratic. 

"If we had been given an affirmative vote, people could still vote the same way as last time. It was about checking, if people still wanted Brexit, now that they knew more about what that would mean. What have we got to lose?"

Wendy Garcarz still insists that Leave voters like her knew what they voted for in 2016 and she believes that what the the People's Vote campaign was really about was in effect to overthrow "the will of the people." She has always been an EU opponent herself as she feels "the EU has treated us with us with contempt."

"Although we paid more into the EU than we got out, it was as if we never achieved any change."

When there were rules we did not like, we had no power to change them, "she says, pointing out that the Remainer argument, about the benefits to the working class of EU membership, did not resonate in Erdington - one suburb of Birmingham - where she lived for 30 years and where she stood in the election. 

"People told us we would lose protection if we left the EU, but people do not feel protected now, so what have they got to lose?

I lost count of how many families I spoke to, who said: If the EU works, how can it be that I work all hours of the day, yet I find it difficult to pay my rent and have to resort to using soup kitchens one week every month".

Garcarz explains that what voters want are "opportunities and jobs".

The government says that if we want to be able to enter into our own free trade agreements with other countries, then it possible to return to the good old days when we were a strong industry nation.

"Personally, I don't know, how realistic that is, but I believe there are huge opportunities in Brexit. The question is whether the government is able to exploit them,” says Wendy Garcarz, who doesn't think highly of the Johnson government.

I don't trust Boris Johnson. 

And our parliamentarians ... that bunch are completely out of touch." 

She believes a new fisheries policy after Brexit could lead to a revival of many peripheral areas, as well as an opportunity to support pressured UK industries.

"Our membership of the European Union has meant that we have not been able to protect our industries. If we have an otherwise viable business, and we can manage to stabilise it financially by providing some extra support, then I cannot see the problem. It will be one of the benefits of leaving the EU," says Garcarz, who is taking a break from work to write a suspense novel.

She accepts that after Brexit, the country will, in the short term experience "economic decline", though she does not believe
that it will be "anything as bad as people claim".

"As a socialist, I don't believe it will be such a bad thing for the big companies to experience some hardship.

They will be strong enough to survive and I hope it will be a warning to them that they should behave more responsibly in the future," she says

"On the whole Brexit will be a good opportunity to look ourselves in the mirror and decide which country we want to become. In our society the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and when we leave the EU, it will give us an opportunity to change course.

And we will be able to revive previous partnerships, for example, with our Commonwealth colleagues.

It is my hope that we will no longer just be driven by the multinationals and financial markets, but that we can begin to look more ethically at the role we play in the world," she says full of optimism.

Lots to fight for

Kate Willoughby basically wants the same thing, but doubts that being outside the EU will make it easier to create a more just society.

"In the short term, I am concerned that the government - ironically - will pull us out of Margaret Thatcher's inner market. It was her great pride and an example of what the Conservative Party stood for as the party of business. My fear is that it will hurt the local communities and mean we don't have the money to invest," she says. 

She believes that it is now important to hold the government to  account for its many promises of for example continued membership of the Erasmus exchange program and large investments in the country's poor regions.
Willoughby does not yet know exactly which direction the great pro-European movement, which has emerged over the past three and a half years, will move in. 

"Our momentum is over, but there is still plenty to fight for. There is a wing in the movement that wants to start a campaign straight away to re-join. I think that is perhaps a little premature," she says.

She plans to continue her grassroots engagement with campaign groups such as Women for Women, York for Europe and New Europeans.

"We ended up here looking nostalgically at the past and by celebrating victories that only a few of us were a part of. Now we have to look ahead and we have to cooperate with our neighbours - for example, the climate crisis cannot be solved by a single country," 

says Kate Willoughby.

"We lost the first battle, so this is a new chapter. but I find inspiration in the struggle of the suffragettes. They suffered many setbacks, they were repeatedly promised things that were then taken away from them again. But they eventually won because they stood together and had a common goal. That spirit is what is now needed."

Wendy Garcarz agrees with Willoughby that it is now important to make sure Boris Johnson keeps his promises to the working class community, who helped him win both the 2016 ballot and helped him to power in December. 

"If he doesn't, we get anarchy. People have had enough of working and working without things getting better, she says, believing Johnson's optimistic message won him the election. 

“It's about keeping the hope alive that we can have better lives. If you remove that hope, we have nothing. "

With Britain's exit from the European Union this Friday "the will of the people", the way Wendy Garcarz sees it, will finally be respected. 

Whether her dream for a more ethical, equal and fair UK will come true over time only time will show. But she is an optimist:

“With good leadership and a clear vision in Parliament, I foresee that we become a global player; no longer burdened of the EU rules that have held us back, 'she says.


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