Thousands and thousands of people turned up to the ‘March for Europe’. I asked them ‘what brings you down to Parliament Square to protest against Britain leaving the EU?’

 

I speak to a professor who was at the protest with her Canadian partner. She works for Imperial College on a project funded by the European Commission Research and Innovation FP7 programme. Science brings Dr Lucy Richards (not her real name) down to Parliament Square.

Lucy is working on a project with a large number of institutions across Europe, mostly with Oxford, Liverpool and Birmingham. Her project consists of research into pathogen co-infections such as HIV combined with tuberculosis, malaria and hepatitis B and C.

‘The only way this project with multi-labs can get funded is through an organisation like the EU.

‘University ministers have told us that they would simply buy their way back into these things (research funding grant schemes), but I do not believe a word they say, how can you trust anything they say if they do not even have a plan?’.

There is a risk now that UK researchers will lack funding. If they do, they could miss out on £7.3bn which we currently receive from the EU. The UK also invests £5.4bn of its own money.

Though Britain could buy its way back into EU research funding we would no longer be an official member, but an associate member. This means we would have to abide by EU laws as an effect of being removed from the decision-making process. Talk about taking back control …

Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), predicts the UK ‘would gain similar status to countries like Brazil, Kenya and China’. The UK is now being compared to countries like Switzerland who are unable to participate in Horizon 2020 as a result of Switzerland’s referendum, which blocked access to the employment market for Croatians. The effect this had on Switzerland is likely to occur in the UK, which explains the uncertainty felt by scientists like Dr Lucy Richards.

‘If we lose EU funding, and if the research budget gets cut — which is likely given the current economic problems UK is now facing — then I will have to move country (to) find my next job’.

This is not a major issue for Lucy since she ‘has a science PhD and can access a visa to go anywhere’ so her ‘freedom of movement won’t be curtailed by Brexit’.

‘People with fewer qualifications, who may want to retire and open a business in another country: they are the ones who will face such severe restrictions. and it’s just not fair’ says Dr Richards.

Prof. Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan told the BBC:’these people (scientists like Lucy) need real reassurance about their future?

‘What would we do if over the next year or two they all left? Because these are real people with families and careers to think about, and they will be much sought after by other countries. Instability could lead to a short-term brain drain with us losing 16 per cent of a highly skilled work force. These people need real reassurance about their future’.

Dr Richard’s Canadian partner,Tim (not his real name) was able to vote in the EU Referendum since Commonwealth citizens that live in the UK can vote.

Having lived in this country for two and a half years, waking up to the news on Friday that Britain had decided to leave the EU came as a huge shock to Tim.

‘I’ve always thought growing up that the UK was part of Europe … I never really understood the mindset of “Oh I don’t really feel like a part of Europe”, the sort of things you hear some Brits say’.

What was most upsetting for Tim was that the Leave campaign: ‘was so based on lies and misinformation, and fear rather than talking about real issues: it wasn’t a legitimate debate about what the benefits of the EU are. I think I’d feel a lot better about the decision if that was the basis of the decision, but it wasn’t.

‘The debate was about lies, about how much money would go to the UK; the votes weren’t even done being counted when Leave was already coming out breaking the promises they made. Nigel Farage, 4 a.m., telling us that the advert for 350 million for the NHS — “was a mistake” ‘, referring to the viral video of Farage on Good Morning Britain.

Many people after the vote took to twitter, radio shows and spoke on news channels like the BBC to express how cheated they felt voting for Leave and discovering there would not really be a huge investment into the NHS. A lot of Leave people woke up Friday morning thinking, ‘Wait a minute, what did we vote for?’. Examples can be found in this article by the Huffington post.

‘The focus was a Conservative power play, and it’s ridiculous that the rest of the country has to pay for that, when really this could have just been settled with a couple of Conservatives having a leadership race’, says Tim.

Lucy and Tim both fear that there may be a rise in strong anti-immigrant feelings and that they are considering leaving the UK.

 

I also interviewed a group of friends who came to protest in defence of human rights.

‘We’re allowing the Tories to come in and negotiate legislation that replaces legal policies that we currently have with the European Union, such as the  Habitats Directive (laws that ensure conservation of animals and plants), Framework Directive (legislations and regulations that work to reduce waste), as well as all these Articles (pointing to a banner the gentleman is holding)’. The banner consists of Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11 all from Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Articles from the European Convention on Human Rights came about in 1950. They were formed by the Council of Europe around the time of the creation of the EU, after the two World Wars and the great human atrocities across Europe.

Just to clarify, this does not mean that without the EU we would no longer have Human Rights. It’s still possible to be part of the Council of Europe without being part of the EU. However, all countries who have joined the EU first belonged to the Council of Europe, and all countries who are part of the EU hold the CoE’s values and principles. Campaigners felt that with the removal of the EU, it’s as if the UK is drifting away from core beliefs which originally stemmed from the Council of Europe’s beliefs and values. Those values notably include Human Rights.

This fear is reinforced by the UK’s new Bill of Rights which would replace the Human Rights Act (HRA). The Human Rights Act allows the European Convention of Human Rights to apply in UK courts.

‘The Conservatives have suggested a new Bill of Rights to replace the HRA … there are also certain devolution issues which would need to be overcome if the HRA were to be repealed. How would a new bill apply in Northern Ireland, which has been working towards its own rights framework? Would the Scotland Act 1998 need to be amended, as currently the Scottish Parliament cannot pass legislation which is incompatible with the HRA?’ — Parliament website

‘Article 2 is the right to life; 3 — the right to freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, 5 — right to liberty; 6 — right to a fair trial; 8 — right to private family life, meaning respect for your [personal] views/religious views/family way of life, not having too much surveillance like in Russia where people were arrested without even being told what they were arrested for; 10 — freedom of expression, which covers religious/political thought; and 11 — right to people’s assembly.

‘If we left, none of these Articles would apply to us anymore. Articles of major concern are 3 and 8 — though these rights are enshrined in the Human Rights Act, the Tories want to get rid of these. They will put in [their new] Bill of Rights: they don’t like the right to private family life and freedom from torture rights … this limits the powers to deport suspected terrorists. Article 3 protects the terror suspect as you are not allowed to put someone on trial if the evidence has been obtained through torture, and you are not allowed to extradite them if there is a chance that they will be tortured. Why would the Tories want to change that?’. These are legitimate questions which I would like some answers to also.

‘In December the Investigatory Powers Bill is expected to be implemented. This bill would legally allow our microphones and cameras to be turned on if  we were a suspect for a crime. Governments would legally be allowed to tap into our phones go through our emails, texts, even our internet service provider, which can then be used in the future’. The bill has gone into the House of Lords for its third reading on the 27th of June. This is an issue because information can be analysed without a warrant. It is an infringement of privacy, restricts freedom of speech and causes citizens to lose trust in the state.

Overall, there was a huge turnout of people coming to take part in the March for Europe. It was interesting to see the different reasons people showed up for: science, human rights, social matters — and how the result affected everyone differently.

There were some ‘regrexiters’, but not everyone who voted Leave felt this way. I went to a talk at the Institute of Ideas last Wednesday, the majority of the room were Leave voters who were pleased with the result on Friday, and were optimistic about the future: ‘this is our chance to shape the future, not bloody well sure we have a chance, but it’s worth a try’.

I feel the Remain side lacked the passion and drive of Leave when it came to the run-up to the referendum. One lady even said the massive protest/rallies that had been happening since Friday should have happened before the referendum. I agree with the lady who described the Remain side as ‘too complacent’.

For me it’s concerning as a British Muslim ethnic minority to hear about the rise in xenophobic attacks to people across the UK. I attended a public meeting in Parliament last Tuesday which the Fabian Society hosted, called ‘Where now for Britain, where now for Labour?’ and MP Seema Malhotra spoke of an ‘increase in racist incidences … cases where kids were shouted at on their way to schools’. This is not only disconcerting but frightening. That’s not to say that all Leave voters are racist, but there are many who used the referendum result as permission to discriminate against minorities.

I also take issue with the removal of Human Rights from British law. It would mean that if these rights were ever infringed by the British legal system, to defend yourself you would need to undertake the lengthy process of taking the UK to court in Strasbourg (home of the European Court of Human Rights). I feel that my rights, and those of others, would not be safeguarded as a result.

This is a separate issue from the EU, but campaigners also felt that with the removal of the EU, it’s as if the UK is drifting away from EU beliefs which stemmed from those of the  Council of Europe. This may not be the case, but the current climate of racial hatred suggests otherwise, and I think there needs to be reassurance that this new Bill of Rights will cater to everyone’s human rights; every single British citizen regardless of race, religion, disability etc. That if there is a situation of rights abuse, there would not be a daunting process required to defend oneself.

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People’s names in this article have been changed for their safety and their photo’s removed.

 

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq18eeL7D9Vd8DhjMcLh9QQ

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/investigatorypowers.html

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/investigatorypowers/stages.html

 

Articles on implications for the UK’s research and development funds in science:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/06/researchers-deplore-uk-decision-leave-european-union

Article image sourced from: Vector Open Stock