‘The Leave campaign told a lot of lies’ – York anti-Brexit rally gathers support

Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit in York. Photograph: Richard McDougall

Campaigners against the UK’s decision to leave the EU in last week’s historic referendum are to make a stand in York on Saturday (2 July).

More than 1,500 people have so far registered interest in the York Says No to Brexit rally, called in the wake of the referendum result where 52 per cent to 48 per cent of Britons opted for the UK to sever ties with the EU after 43 years.

Sally Sadik and James Haikney, both second year English students at the University of York, have planned the protest to “challenge the lies of the Leave campaign and anti-immigrant narrative”.

Those who were arguing in favour of the UK’s exit from the EU claimed that it would better allow Britain to control its borders and allow more money to be spent on the NHS.

Meanwhile, those in favour of continuing membership said being part of the bloc was vital for our economy and to protect public services.

‘Horribly racist’

York Against Brexit

St Helen’s Square, York

Sat July 2 @ 1pm

Facebook event

James, who is from Newcastle, told YorkMix: “We believe that a lot of lies were told by the Leave campaign that need to be addressed.

“The narrative for the past 30 years has been very anti-immigrant and doesn’t value the contributions of EU citizens and citizens from all over the world who have come to work.

“The NHS is one of the flagship lies. But given the proliferation of racism that is also a very pressing issue for us to look at.”

Since the outcome of the EU referendum, a number of anti-immigrant and racist incidents have been reported by the media and recorded by police. One woman in York from Sweden was told to “f*** off back to your own country“.

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James said: “I’m worried about the racist incidents but I don’t think the EU referendum has created that. It’s emboldened it and legitimised it in the public sphere.

“Nigel Farage used to be seen as quite a fringe individual and here he is being talked to everyday about what his opinion is. His opinion quite frequently is horribly racist.”

Solidarity with migrants

The demonstration is set to take place in the heart of the city centre, starting from 1pm on St Helen’s Square.

It will hear from local MP Rachael Maskell, as well as former parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats’ James Blanchard and a member of the local Green Party.

Despite the UK voting to leave, York was among a handful of areas in England, alongside a majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland, opting to Remain by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.

James said: “The actual protest is about showing solidarity with immigrants in York and showing that York was heavily in favour of Remain.

“There is the idea of the ‘Other’ in rural areas which doesn’t exist as much in inner-city areas because you have experience of immigrants, working and coming and being incredible members of the community.

“We also want to inspire political engagement: just because 48 per cent voted against doesn’t make us nothing and we should be listened to.”

Anger and sadness

The reaction from those in York who voted to Remain has concocted a mixture of emotions including anger and sadness.

James said: “We like the EU because we like the free movement. We also like the core parts. It helps the disadvantaged in society through funding while free movement allows people to make a better life for themselves.

He added:

Some people are very angry that politicians like Boris Johnson are making a power grab.

They seem to have backed the Leave campaign for their own career rather than any personally held belief. There is sadness as well.

People are surprised. The country is surprised. We need to examine what country we live and what country we want to live in.

With more than 1,500 people registering an interest in attending the rally on the event’s Facebook page, the organisers believe at least 400 people will turnout.

Students have overwhelmingly registered interest alongside parents and older people.

“Sally and myself have been blown away by the amount of support,” James said. “It was only a few days that only five people said they were going.”

Anti-democratic?

But those in favour of the referendum’s result have branded James and Sally “anti-democratic” and asked “What is the point?” in holding the protest when a referendum was held and Parliament looks set to respect the wishes of the majority of the people.

James said: “I refuse to believe we can live in a democracy and people can try to stop us associating in public to protest.

“This is a decision that is likely to last 100 years and possibly may never be reversed. The EU may never let us back in. They are not keen to make us a decent offer for re-entry when we’ve just thrown it in their faces.

“So before we leave we need to examine: do we really want this? Is a four per cent margin enough to say let’s completely overhaul how we operate on the international stage?”