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Camden politicians stage cross-party rally against Parliament shutdown

Even people who voted to leave the European union are angry at attack on democracy, speakers claim

01 September, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Sir Keir Starmer on the stage in Russell Square
SIR Keir Starmer told a rally that there was united anger at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to shut down Parliament, even among some people who voted to leave the European Union.

The Holborn and St Pancras MP said: “This is a moment for all of us, that’s why it doesn’t matter who you voted for, because this is about which side are you are on. Are you on the side of democracy, of parliament, of people being properly represented – or are you prepared to see a slide into this Trumpian politics where it all doesn’t matter? It’s a fundamental moment.”

He was on the stage at the ‘Camden Defends Democracy’ rally in Russell Square yesterday (Saturday). Up to 500 people were there, as a series of speakers pledged to fight Mr Johnson to the wire of his Halloween ‘do-or-die’ deadline for leaving the European Union.

Mr Johnson insists he moved to prorogue parliament this week to provide time to come forward with a new programme of policies, but the five week suspension has narrowed the options for MPs looking to pass legislation which would stop the United Kingdom leaving the union without a deal.

Mr Starmer, who has been Labour’s Brexit spokesman on a national level, said: “Prime ministers should unite the country, this prime minister wants to divide the country. And he’s dishonest. We know 350 million pounds for the NHS, absolute rubbish – lie after lie. The latest one: this shutting down of parliament is nothing to do with Brexit. Try that with a straight face, it’s dishonesty. Disingenuous is a word created for Boris Johnson.”

Sir Keir Starmer said the UK risked sliding into ‘Trumpian’ politics

He added: “It’s this politics where the truth doesn’t matter: you can be casual as to whether you are really telling people the truth about what you are doing. It is a slippery slope, it’s Trumpian: divide, be casual about the truth, shut down institutions – that’s where it’s heading.”

Opposition parties at Westminster held talks last week on how to work together to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit next month.

“He is uniting us,” said Mr Starmer. “I’ve never known a time when the Labour Party has been arguing less. It’s fantastic. I’ve never known a time where we’ve had fantastic cross party meetings, genuinely with other opposition parties. People realise how fundamental this is: it’s about the way we do politics, as well as politics.”

He added: “We are determined to stop a no deal Brexit: there is no mandate for no deal Brexit. No deal Brexit means a border in Northern Ireland – how can anybody be casual about that? No deal Brexit means that essential supplies of medicine won’t get to this country – how can anybody be casual about that?”

Mr Starmer said from the stage that MPs were ready for a battle in the coming days.

“It may be that Boris Johnson has shortened the window; we’ve only got this week to do it now but doesn’t stop our resolve. It’s actually helped,” he said. “Usually we argue about exactly what procedure: this bill, that bill, this amendment, that amendment. None of that. One plan agreed, ready to go on Tuesday, as soon as we get back – lots of moving parts, absolute collective discipline to make sure that we take this to him and stop him allowing us to go out without a deal.”

Former Liberal Democrat council leader Keith Moffit said: “This is about putting our political differences aside and people who are like-minded working together. David Cameron got us into this mess and this man deserves really to be vilified. If you think five years ago, Brexit was not even on the radar. When you did opinion polls, it wasn’t even on the radar of most people. There were far more pressing things, and this poison has leached out of the Conservative Party and it’s divided the country. And that division in the country is now enabling this appalling government to do what it is trying to do: taking advantage of those divisions.”

He added: “In Camden particularly, we have many, many EU citizens living in our midst: my partner is one of them. He has lived and worked in the UK for 30 years as an Italian citizen. Now he is frightened about his future with [Home Secretary] Priti Patel having announced that EU freedom of movement would stop in the case of a no deal Brexit, it’s a very frightening situation. We are hearing day in, day out, of people like my partner who have lived and worked and paid taxes in this country for many, many years being told they don’t qualify for EU settled status. This is Windrush waiting to happen all over again.”

Keith Moffitt is a former leader of Camden Council

And he said that he was worried, as a gay man, about the shifting nature of debate, drawing comparisons with the beginning of Nazi Germany.

“I’m very frightened by the way our politics is lurching to the right and away from liberalism,” he said. “I studied German, and lived in Germany, and I talked to people then who could not imagine in their country in the 1920s what was going to happen. Germany was one of the most liberal and cultured countries in Europe and they could not imagine that it would be taken over by a brutal, fascist regime: that not only Jews would be sent to the concentration camps but also homosexuals like me.”

He added: “That’s really scary. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking this happened in Germany to people like me, is it going to happen here? It’s really scary.”

Green Party councillor Sian Berry, the party’s co-leader nationally, said: “I know Boris Johnson – I’ve stood against him for Mayor. I know he doesn’t like it when people speak against him. I know the contempt he had for the London Assembly, which was doing its duty and holding him to account. He abused power in City Hall and now he’s abusing power in government. He is showing his contempt for democracy itself.”

She said: “The people of Camden, London, Britain, fought hard for that democracy; we elected our MPs to represent our people. It’s only 100 years since women fought for the right for those votes to elect them too, and we say that when this right to be represented is shoved aside, we won’t stand for this.”

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry: ‘Solidarity must be extended’

She added: “Protest and direct action when needed, that’s what’s won us all our rights. No one ever hands them to us. We have to use them to defend our rights now. Our MPs are a vital part of the struggle to stop a disastrous no deal Brexit being imposed.”.

Ms Berry, who is also a London Assembly member, said: “I think there are people here today who voted to Leave, because this is an affront to them too. We can all agree on this, however we voted in 2016, that we do need massive change in the UK: to end the harm of austerity, to have parliament give more control to people in local communities, more investment into neglected areas, and a real voice for all the people again – a real constitution that works. Fair votes that count every time. I will work with anyone and any party that wants to get this change done. We must extend this solidarity today into a general election if we have to.”

Luisa Porritt, the Liberal Democrat councillor who is also an MEP after her European election win earlier this year, said: “We have a prime minister who is acting like a demagogue. He is trying to silence our elected representatives at a time when we need them most to speak for us, the people.”

She said: “I think what is happening in Camden mirrors the cross-party efforts that our happening in the UK parliament right now, and this is very encouraging because we have to stand together in these troubled times. This is grown-up politics in action and we need more of it. We may disagree on some other things politically, but I think we can all agree that our democracy must not be silenced.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt MEP was elected to the European Parliament earlier this year

Cllr Porritt told the crowd: “Three quarters of the people living here voted to remain and 24,000 EU citizens are living here; and 36,000 of them are working here. In many ways, Camden is representative of the best of our Remain city. Like London, Camden is an open, outward-looking, diverse borough. We exemplify the best of British values and these are also European values.”

She added: “We don’t want no deal – or any Brexit for that matter. This latest authoritarian power grab shows us, friends, that we need the EU now more than ever.

Other speakers included youth MP Athian Akec, student Saba Asif, Labour councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli, Labour MEP Seb Dance, human rights professor Conor Gearty and Sagal Abdi-Wali, the chair of Labour’s constituency party in Holborn and St Pancras.

Liz Wheatley, the branch secretary of Camden Unison, said: “Really, what he’s doing is closing parliament, so that he can protect his position because to me, actually, whether or not you voted leave or remain, it is really important that we unite together to hold him to account. This isn’t just about a no deal Brexit. It’s also about a weak and nasty government who are trying to stay in power at our expense.”

She added: “If they get away with this, they will actually continue to keep trying to attack us. Make no mistake about it, it’s a government of austerity who are trying to make us pay for their economic problem. But it’s also a government of racism and Islamophobia, and from the hostile environment to Boris Johnson’s comments about women wearing the burkha looking like letterboxes, to the chicken box knife slogans, I think this is something that we have to challenge every inch of the way.”

Unison branch secretary Liz Wheatley called for a general election

She added: “Freedom of movement is important to us a trade union. We’ve had to represent and campaign for our members here in Camden who have been affected by Windrush and the hostile environment, and we don’t want to have to do that again for our European brothers and sisters.”

Dame Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster and Labour peer, began quoting the past comments of Conservative cabinet members who had previously spoken against proroguing parliament.

“We don’t have a written constitution, so there is a lot of flim-flam in the media about how pro-roguing parliament is not illegal, so go away, don’t worry your heads, it’s not illegal. In fact, it’s not illegal but what it is is unconstitutional,” she said.

“Before I came out, I mapped a few quotations which endorse that view. ‘You don’t deliver democracy by trashing democracy, you can’t go down that path’. Sajid Javid. ‘It is a ridiculous suggestion to conceive proroguing parliament – we are not doing that’. Amber Rudd. ‘Proroguing parliament endangers parliamentary democracy, let’s rule it out’. Matt Hancock.”

She added: “So what is interesting of course is that there is no majority view even within the cabinet about what is required constitutionally, and what is appropriate. So we have them worried, we have them seriously arguing among themselves about what is the correct path to take.”

Broadcaster and Labour peer Dame Joan Bakewell: ‘We will stop Brexit’

Dame Joan, who lives in Primrose Hill, that peers had been warned to expect a busy week ahead.

She said: “I’m under instruction from the Labour whip in the Lords to cancel all my activities for next week because it’s going to be a gruelling session – all night long, night after night if necessary and we’re geared up for it. It’s going to be a major step in stopping the no deal Brexit. We absolutely have to stop it. All our friends across Camden, all across the country, and all across Europe want us to stop Brexit and we will.”

Organisers said that the Camden Labour Party had paid for the park hire, stage and PA system, and then had been no expense to council funds.

Tbey said that local Tories did not accept invitations to speak. Some Conservative MPs at a national level, including former chancellor Philip Hammond, have criticised the prorogation. Others support Mr Johnson and say the action is not as unusual as has been suggested by critics.

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq wore a blue and yellow flag draped around her.

She said: “There are lots of things are EU membership bought us: it gave us the right to live, to love across borders, to trade, to go and make other member states our home no matter where you come from. It brought us annual investment into business, into culture, into science and technology, it meant so much to be part of the EU.”

She added: “We have a prime minister who claims he was proud to have been mayor of a diverse city who is determined to make sure that he chokes democracy and shoves no deal down our throats.”

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq: ‘We must stand up for EU nationals living in UK’

The MP, who voted against triggering Article 50 in the House of Commons, said: “I know people think politicians are cynical, I know people say and do things because they think that politicians will do anything to get votes. The EU nationals living my constituency actually can’t vote for me, but they are part of my community and they make up the fabric of the community that I live in.”

She said: “I am sick to my back teeth of seeing the prime minister disregard the contribution that they make to our community. I am sick to my back teeth of watching my constituents go through the pain of applying for the pain for settled status when they have been settled in the UK for years already. And I’m sick to my back teeth of watching a few people wreak havoc on the lives of so many thousands of people who make such a valuable contribution to our economy, to our culture and society.

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