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The Big Brexit Debate

The Clean Brexit Cymru logo and Femi speaking to the crowd at a public engagement. Source: Facebook (Left) Our Future Our Choice (Right)

Last week, Gair Rhydd spoke to representatives of two opposing Brexit campaigns. We spoke to Callum Vaga from Clean Brexit Cymru who argues for the necessity of a clean break from the European Union. Contrastingly, Femi Oluwole from Our Future Our Choice puts forward the case for a People’s Vote. Here’s what they had to say:

Co-Founder of Welsh pro-Brexit campaign, Clean Brexit Cymru – The Grassroots Campaign, talks to Gair Rhydd

By Lowri Pitcher

Clean Brexit Cymru – The Grassroots Campaign is a Welsh pro-Brexit campaign which promotes delivering a clean and timely Brexit. This campaign launched on Facebook on January 28th 2019 and has since received over 550 likes and followers; its launch video received 46,000 views and attracted over 750 comments. Callum Vaga, one of the founders of this campaign, has spoken to Gair Rhydd about the campaign’s efforts and objectives.

What led you to form this campaign?

We formed the campaign to promote the idea of a clean and proper Brexit. We use social media, particularly Facebook, to target Welsh audiences and to raise awareness of the importance of delivering Brexit in certain areas of the country such the valleys seats, which are represented by Assembly Members (AMs) and MPs who are promoting either a soft Brexit or no Brexit at all, even though their constituents voted to leave.

What exactly is a “Clean Brexit?”

As a campaign we don’t believe that there is a soft or hard Brexit. You either have Brexit or you don’t have Brexit, there is no in between. To us, a clean Brexit means leaving the EU on terms that are beneficial to us, given that we have the upper hand in negotiations because of the EU’s reliance on the United Kingdom for trade.

Does a “clean Brexit” include leaving the single market, customs union and the European Court of Justice?

Yes, it means leaving every aspect of the European Union and then selecting parts we want to remain a part of.

Would your campaign be happy for us to leave on World Trade Organization rules or accept a no-deal?

Yes.

Why not a Norway-style deal?

It’s better to start from scratch and select what we need rather than starting off with a deal which may not work. A Norway-style deal would also entail allowing the free movement of people and would restrict the UK from forming its own trade deals which we do not believe would fulfil the demands of the leave voters.

It is said that Brexit will negatively impact Wales. Should we therefore accept the proposal of a People’s Vote now that people have more information?

We don’t think Brexit will negatively impact Wales or the Welsh economy. One of the arguments against Brexit in Wales is the potential loss of funding that we receive from the European Union for projects such as the Heads of the Valleys carriageway, built using European grant money. However, the UK contributes that money to the EU to receive it as rebate and be told how to spend it.

What do you say to those arguing that a 2nd Referendum is the best option?

It disrespects the first vote. We’ve already had a referendum and it would completely undermine any vote that has ever been conducted and any vote that would be made in the future; it undermines the whole democratic process.

Is the Welsh Assembly hindering the delivery of Brexit?

No, but they’re spitting in the face of the public because Wales voted to leave. We have an Assembly and First Minister who continually hint at the idea of supporting a 2nd referendum, which is completely out of touch with the public in that country.

What does the Welsh Government and the MPs representing Welsh constituencies need to do in your opinion?

They need to help deliver a Brexit that cuts ties to things like the common market. At best, they should stop advocating to remain.

How is Wales going to make a success of Brexit when the UK has not guaranteed all its free trade deals and future arrangements?

Wales is still a member country of the United Kingdom and a number of countries have already come forward to say that they’re ready to make those deals as and when is possible. As a campaign we don’t think that that’s a worry. For example, the UK has already agreed a bilateral trade deal with Switzerland worth approximately £32 billion annually, even in the event of a no deal Brexit.

Do you think now that politicians are becoming more self-interested or are they still serving their democratic duty to represent their constituents?

Some of them. I don’t think they’re any worse or better than usual, however a certain number, such as the MPs who were elected on a manifesto which promised to respect the result of the referendum who’ve defected to The Independent Group, are putting their ideologies ahead of the will of the country.

What’s next for Clean Brexit Cymru?

In the future Clean Brexit Cymru plan to create and share more original and engaging online content in order to increase their following and further promote their cause. Callum encourages supporters to also get involved with other like-minded groups such as Leave Means Leave who will be holding campaign days across Wales in March. Individuals who feel their views are not being represented can also contact their local MP in order to voice their opinion and discover how their MP is representing their constituents throughout the Brexit process.

Femi Oluwole, chief spokesperson for pro-EU campaign, Our Future Our Choice, talks to Gair Rhydd

By Aliraza Manji and Maisie Marston

After graduating from Nottingham University with a degree in Law with French, Femi Oluwole embarked on his career in European human rights. After securing his dream traineeship at the EU agency for Fundamental Rights, he decided to cut it short to use his expertise to present his case to remain in the European Union. In 2017, in collaboration with Calum Millbank-Murphy, Lara Spirit and Will Dry, ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ was formed. Representing young people and armed with their very own battle bus, the group campaign to stop Brexit and the “deprivation of opportunities” from the younger generation it could cause. In their report, ‘Young People and Brexit’, the group concluded that a hard WTO-style Brexit could cost young people up to three times more than tuition fees. We caught up with Femi in Cardiff during Our Future, Our Choice’s tour of UK schools, colleges and universities.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up in politics.

I studied law because I liked to argue and I thought I could use it to help people, but I decided in September of first year that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. So I figured policy was the way to do it. I started doing internships in Brussels, moving into the field of human rights. Then in February 2016 I realised Brexit was going to be a big thing, and so I started making videos online and I started using Twitter more regularly. Then I eventually got to campaigning on the street, I bought a t-shirt from Primark and wrote ‘EU Questions? Just ask’ and stood in the centre of Birmingham for a few hours a day, and then after that while doing an internship in Vienna I grew and grew and grew on Twitter, explaining the basics that weren’t explained by the remain campaign.

So, ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ is aiming to reach 100 events in 100 days, what is the aim of the organisation?

Our aim is to give a voice to a generation that has been, so far, excluded from this whole conversation. You didn’t see young people on TV in 2016, we weren’t leading the debate but we are now. I mean, I got Nigel Farage to admit live on air that EU members control immigration, on his own radio show. I pointed out to him that citizens from EU countries make up 5% of our population and 10% of our doctors so I got him to admit that immigration is a net benefit and we can control it. Young people are leading the conversation right now which is something massively new, and also we voted overwhelmingly against Brexit.

The thing is, this isn’t about saying that remainers don’t like Brexit so therefore Brexit shouldn’t happen. This is about saying the future generations of this country voted heavily against Brexit, and that the people who voted for Brexit don’t even like the Brexit we’re getting. The deal we just negotiated is a deal that people who voted for Brexit absolutely hate, so if we end up in a situation where neither side of this thing is happy, we can’t call it democracy or the will of the people.

Do you think that if we do have a People’s Vote then, as in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, over 16s should be able to vote?

If you are able to contribute to the economy you should have a say over how the economy is run, so yes.

What have you found the mood is among the students you’re talking to?

The mood among young people has been that overwhelmingly they hate Brexit. They know it is a disaster, but the conversation is so complicated that many of them pull out of it, but it’s really simple. We get a third of our food from Europe, we do half of our trade with Europe so if there is any barrier between us and Europe leaving the EU would create, then stuff’s just going to get more expensive. It also makes the UK a less attractive place to create jobs, given that we don’t have any money and we’re desperate for jobs. Stuff getting expensive and losing jobs is very bad for young people. We have the right as EU citizens to work and love in 31 countries across Europe, Brexit goes against everything we stand for. It basically closes off our relationship with our nearest neighbours. So, young people overwhelmingly don’t like Brexit, but we’re making the point that Brexit can be stopped. And they have every right to stop it because it is their future that is at stake here.

Do you think the Independent Group affected Labour’s recent change in policy?

I think they helped. Before today I was in two minds about which way it would affect things; would the absence of people like Chuka Umunna make Labour more pro Brexit, or would it put more pressure on them to support a public vote? And now they support a public vote, so I guess we’ve got our answer in that respect.

What are you thoughts on Theresa May’s decision to delay the meaningful vote until March?

I think it just shows utter political cowardice. It’s utterly undemocratic. She knows parliament doesn’t like her deal. It’s been voted down by historical proportions and so to try and force parliament to choose between a deal that she knows would break the country, because it leave us with less control over our country when people voted for more control, thoroughly angering both Brexit voters and Remain voters, forcing parliament between a choice of that deal and a no deal Brexit which would be utterly catastrophic for the country is completely doctoral and morally wrong.

So if the amendment to hold a second referendum passes, how do we justify having it to the British people? Is it democratic to have a revote?

Let me put it this way; it would be undemocratic if after the first referendum we had a new referendum straight away. Even if we had the referendum in September last year, you could argue that is undemocratic because it would basically be the same as 2016; Brexit could mean 1000 different things depending on what deal we get. It could be a deal where we stay in the single market, stay in the customs union, could be a Canada-style free trade deal. It could be a no deal Brexit. It could be a thousand different things and so that’s part of the reason the referendum was so bad in 2016, because Brexit wasn’t solid.

Whereas after October, we actually had a deal, Brexit in 2016 was four words: ‘Leave the European Union’. Brexit in 2019 is a 585 page treaty, the detail of which, most people who voted for Brexit absolutely hate. It means we copy the rules of the EU, but no longer have a say in shaping those rules. Now if you voted for more control, you’re p****d. If we end up with a situation where nobody is happy, we can’t call that democracy. The example I often use is the Good Friday Agreement. When they signed the Good Friday Agreement, they had a vote before that where they sent a copy of the Agreement to every single voter in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They got to see the deal that they were signing before they signed it. What happened with Brexit is, we signed the contract and they wrote the terms 3 years later and were surprised people weren’t happy with it.

The most democratic way of looking at this is in 2016 we rejected our current relationship with the EU by a margin of 2-4%. In 2019 we have a new relationship with the EU which we’ve just negotiated which people thoroughly hate on both sides of the divide. The only logical thing is to allow people to decide which one they prefer.

What are you doing next for the ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ project?

So, that’s why young people need to speak out, because it is their future at stake, and that’s why ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ has been touring the country speaking to Brexit voters and mobilising young people across the country. This week we’re going to be in parliament on the 27th, we’re going to be filling the halls with the parliament takeover which you can sign up to on our website. Basically, young people should speak to their MP. You can basically just walk in to parliament and demand to speak to your MP, and tell them that the only way out of this is a people’s vote. A referendum where people get to choose whether or not the Brexit that has been negotiated is right for their futures and whether or not they actually want to put a stop to this is needed so we can actually get to work on fixing the main issues in the country, many of which led to people voting for Brexit in the first place.

Conclusion: What happens next?

By Lowri Pitcher

The withdrawal agreement must return to the House of Commons and be voted on by March 12. It is unlikely that the deal will pass (given that the possibility of extending Article 50 is now being widely discussed). If the withdrawal agreement is rejected then Theresa May will move to hold a vote on whether MPs will accept a no-deal Brexit. This is unlikely to pass as MPs have already indicated that a no-deal Brexit is their least preferred option. If MPs reject leaving with a no-deal, then the government will propose a vote on extending Article 50 for a limited time period. This may gain a majority in the Commons, though many are concerned about the limit of this extension.

Even in the event of extending Article 50, there is no clear consensus among politicians, and indeed the general public, as is demonstrated above, about what type of Brexit is best for UK; although while such resolute and divisive opinions remain, a resolution to the Brexit debate looks quite unlikely.

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