Thanks for inviting me to speak. [I’m a Green Party councillor for Guildhall ward here in York city centre.] Fantastic to see so many of you here today and many thanks to James and Sally for organising this protest – protests like this around the country really show how the events of the last week have touched the hearts as well as the minds of so many people – both remain and leave voters – leaving many of us still traumatised and grieving – but also perhaps much more aware of the political power that each individual can wield when they participate in the political process!
This power which encouraged people to turn out in larger numbers than at most General Elections was of course strengthened by the fact that it was a straight vote in which people felt that their vote counted – a very strong argument for campaigning for proportional representation to be a key part of our future political landscape. Indeed, in the midst of the chaos at Westminster, Green Party leader, Natalie Bennet wrote on Thursday to the leaders of The Labour Party, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru – inviting a cross-party discussion of how to work together against the prospect of a Brexit scenario that encourages a move yet further to the right in British politics. She said ‘there is an urgent need to stand together against continued austerity and any slashing of environmental legislation, human rights and workers’ rights that may come with Brexit. This is an opportunity to create a new politics and central to that must be a commitment to proportional elections for the House of Commons.’
And a new politics is certainly needed to stand together against the climate of casual racism and increased hate speech and hate crime which a minority of people seem to believe the Brexit vote has given permission for. The Green Party believes passionately that hate speech and any other hate crime is totally unacceptable. We welcome and value the contributions of EU and other migrants to our society – whether they have lived here for many decades or arrived recently – whether they are helping to keep our NHS afloat, caring for our elderly residents, mending our central heating or running successful businesses that employ other people – they are all welcome. We also welcome refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing wars and violence we have often helped to bring about and who need our help. In the last few days we called on York council leaders to sign a joint statement against hate crime which we are glad to say was published yesterday and we will work in all other ways possible to promote respect for each other and welcoming communities.
There are no easy answers as to how exactly we move forward in the aftermath of the referendum vote. Are we calling for a second referendum? Are we calling for holding back on invoking article 50? What do we mean by holding back? Do we mean indefinitely or until it is far clearer what the impacts of Brexit will be – or indeed pending a General Election in the Autumn? There are very strong arguments for resisting any pressure from Brussels or elsewhere to just get on with it and to push for much more consideration before any UK Government invokes article 50 and sets the whole leave process in motion.
I do respect the argument that we have had the vote and we must stick with it. But this is not a game, it is a momentous decision which affects the futures of everyone in this country as well as our fellow citizens in Europe and beyond. It has very quickly become clear there was a huge gulf between the fantasies played out in the campaign and the realities of what leaving the EU will actually mean. According to a recent poll over a million ‘leave’ voters are already having second thoughts. We have to ask if Parliament should be making such a far reaching decision for our young people’s future – remember 75% of young people voted remain – based on a slender 4% majority many of whom now seem to have changed their minds when confronted with the false promises of the ‘leave’ campaign and the evident impacts on our economy and our society.
You could argue that many people who have felt powerless for years in the face of politics run for the benefit of the 1% used that power to give establishment politicians a kick in the teeth. Whatever the new political landscape turns out to be, we in the Green Party will continue to stand up for people who are working all hours on low wages or being forced out of their homes due to benefit changes and soaring rents and all the other impacts of austerity politics. We will oppose racism and hate crime and work to bring communities together. And we will reflect the very widespread feeling that we are about to go down the wrong path and make a very big mistake. Protests such as this and many more like them are so important for people to come together, express how we feel to each other, to politicians and to our friends in Europe. Over the last week I know people have spent time crying, being angry and then being spurred to action as you all have today – let’s keep on campaigning for respect, compassion, fairness and hospitality – everything that truly is ‘great’ about Britain – and send a message to whoever is in charge in Westminster that there is no clear mandate for rushing into the ‘leave’ process.