EU Citizens Stand Firm Against Brexit Business Cannot Run
British Businesses Cannot Run without Immigrant Workers
Immigrants Don’t Live and Work in the UK at the Expense of British Citizens
The EU referendum has had at least one useful side-effect. Brexit has got people engaged in politics, including those who don’t have a British passport.
A week ago, the Library of Birmingham hosted a public discussion to debate the question “What Brexit do you want?” The room was full of people wanting answers from the two MEPs present, Labour’s Neena Gill and Ukip’s James Carver. “Two, three months before the referendum, just a couple of people would have shown up to an event like this, but now they are always fully booked,” said the BBC journalist who presented the discussion.
800,000 Poles in Britain don’t want to be aliented
One of the people who spoke was Adam Fejfer, a young Polish man. He has been in the UK for more than a decade, and said he wanted Britain to stay as diverse as it was now. “We belong to this country,” he says of the well over 800,000 Poles living in the UK. “We contribute unique skills and talents. We don’t want to be alienated. We don’t want to live in ghettos but be a part of this community.”
Fejfer is not eligible to vote in major elections, but he became a member of the Liberal Democrats two years ago. “I try to convince as many people as possible to join a party and to do something,” he says.
Brexit | Political Parties Membership
The Brexit vote has boosted the memberships of many political parties, including Labour and the SNP. The Lib Dems, who stood firmly for remaining in the EU, have become particularly attractive to non-British citizens. The fact that they were not able to vote in the referendum on an issue that was going to affect their lives fundamentally has not prevented them from wanting to shape the future of Brexit Britain. Instead of mourning, they have become increasingly active.
Bele Weiss, a German who came to the UK in 1993 and lives with her husband in London, joined the Tories immediately after the referendum, before Theresa May became party leader. She wanted to prevent Boris Johnson being prime minister, she says. When Johnson quit the race, she switched to the Liberal Democrats. “They are the only party standing firm against Brexit.”
Weiss runs two Bavarian restaurants in Kingston and Richmond, where imported Nürnberger Würstchen and Münchener pretzel with Obatzer, a cheese dip, are served at huge wooden tables.
Despite being unable to vote herself, she is campaigning for the Lib Dem Sarah Olney in next week’s Richmond Park byelection. “I have never been politically active, either in Germany or in Great Britain,” she says. “But now I feel obliged to do something in my own backyard against Brexit. I got so angry about the Brexit vote.”
BREXIT | Business in UK Can’t Run without Immigrant Workers
Zac Goldsmith, who quit as a Tory MP and is standing as an independent, is a stout supporter of Brexit, so the Lib Dems are trying to make the by-election a vote about the issue. Weiss has been into every shop on Richmond high street in an effort to persuade other businesspeople and shop owners to vote for Olney. “Every shop employs immigrant workers. The owners tell me they couldn’t run their business without immigrant employees,” she says. “Maybe the byelection will be the beginning of the end of Brexit.”
BREXIT | Immigrants Don’t Live and Work in the UK at the Expense of British Citizens
Rosalie Schweiker, a German artist who has lived in London for 10 years, believes Brexit is inevitable but wants to use her work to challenge some of the narratives that dominated the campaign, the idea that the EU is strangling the UK, and that immigrants live here at the expense of British citizens. She helped run the EU-UK campaign against Brexit and has recently joined the Labour party.
Schweiker did not despair after the referendum result. “I am not going to leave,” she smiles. “That’s what people like Nigel Farage want.”
Instead she uses Facebook to call for action and has launched the Unite Against Dividers campaign with four other women. The group, three of whom have EU passports and two of whom British, are organising an “activation weekend” in January to bring artists and politicians together and gather fresh ideas for strategies.
BREXIT | Changing Life
“Brexit has changed my life,” Schweiker says. “Politics had never had such an impact on my life. I have stopped doing my usual kind of work for the moment and just concentrate on the new campaign.” She and her group want to spread their initiative to other British cities.
In Birmingham, Gavin Wade works as an art curator for the Eastside Projects, a former manufacturing hall that is both gallery and community centre. He has worked with Schweiker and is inclined to support her campaign. During the referendum campaign a billboard with an EU flag dominated the front of his studio. The day after the referendum they destroyed it. It hasn’t been replaced. “We feel the pressure to do something, but I have no answer yet,” he says.
The voice of art has been surprisingly quiet since the referendum, Schweiker and her fellow campaigners believe. They want it to be loud again. “I don’t want to sit by and let everything happen. The issues that caused Brexit have not gone away. They are still there.”