​​The Great Northern Stop Brexit Conference​​
Creating a Vision of a New Britain Without Brexit
Leeds - Saturday, 8 September 2018

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Highlights Video

In September 2018, over 20 eminent speakers and a sell-out crowd of 250 people from all across Britain gathered in Leeds for a day-long conference organised by Leeds for Europe

This was the largest and most ambitious event of its type to be held anywhere in the UK during 2018.

Our aim was bold: we wanted to stimulate an overdue debate about how we tackle the underlying causes of the Brexit vote and offer the people of Britain a vision of a brighter future within the EU.

See below to access a series of comprehensive reports and videos of each of the conference sessions.
See Comprehensive Conference
Reports and Videos
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The following article about the Great Northern Stop Brexit Conference was published in the Yorkshire Post on Monday, 3 September 2018:
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We need to stop talking about Brexit and start talking about creating a vision of a new Britain without Brexit.

It is now more than 2 years since the EU Referendum.  Many people who voted to leave the European Union, I am sure, expected that the UK would have left by now and that the future for our country would have been clear.  They hoped that they would start to see improvements in their lives - such as through more money for the NHS - as was promised by the Leave campaigners during the referendum.  Tragically, those hopes now lie in tatters, as those promises have been found to be empty.  A devalued pound and a stalling economy are already wiping out any imagined financial ‘benefits’ from exiting the EU.

All that is now on offer from those responsible for interpreting the referendum result is a damage limitation exercise, as the government tries to manage the impossible task of leaving the largest and most successful free trade area in the world without causing irreparable damage to whole swathes of the UK’s economy.

Talk is growing of a “People’s Vote” – an opportunity for the people of the UK to review the results of the government’s Brexit negotiations and then to take an informed decision – through a referendum - about whether it is still, in their opinion, the best course for the country.  The people may well conclude that, having seen a glimpse through the keyhole into a post-Brexit Britain, they do not like what they see.  The People’s Vote campaign is – quite rightly - highlighting the many alarming implications of a Brexit which is proving to be far more complicated than anyone envisaged over 2 years ago.

But, to be honest, many of the people of Yorkshire that we in Leeds for Europe meet on a week-in week-out basis are showing distinct signs of frustration with the whole shoddy business and just want it over with.  There is a weary resignation and a growing feeling that neither leaving the EU nor remaining in it will offer a solution to our country’s deep problems.  Neither the Remainers nor the Leavers are offering much hope that things will get better after 29 March 2019, when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.  This needs to change – and fast.

This is why Leeds for Europe have organised a major conference, to take place in our fine city at the beginning of September.  The “Great Northern Stop Brexit Conference” will be bringing together a wide range of politicians, campaigners, academics and journalists to examine the causes of the Brexit vote and – crucially – to identify solutions to those problems.  We will be discussing the north-south divide, immigration, reaching the “Left Behind” and much else.  We will be joined by Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel, former Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, journalist Will Hutton and many more of the country’s leading thinkers on the state of our nation and its relationships with the rest of Europe.

Our objective is radical.  We want nothing less than to redefine the debate around Brexit and the direction our country is taking.  We must recognise that in two wasted years since the referendum virtually nothing has been done by our government to tackle the deep-seated problems our country faces – including inequality, lack of investment (particularly outside London and the south east), crumbling and neglected public services and a weakening economy.  The reality is that Brexit is diverting almost all our government’s time and energy away from where it is truly needed.

We, in Leeds for Europe, propose that we cancel Brexit – but not just to rewind the clock back to how it was before the referendum.  On the contrary, the cancellation of Brexit must be seen as an opportunity to launch a bold programme of reform in our country.  There are many good reasons why people voted for Brexit in such large numbers.  We must not ignore and neglect these concerns any longer.  Amongst other things, we need to: close the north-south economic gap; invest in northern transport, jobs and housing; give real powers, subject to democratic control, to England’s regions; reform our creaking constitution; and re-engage with a renewed energy and positivity with our European neighbours and friends, to our mutual benefit.

Britain is a European country and Yorkshire is a great part of the European story.  Yorkshire and the Humber is one of the regions of the UK with the highest level of exports to the EU.  Our universities attract students from across Europe due to the high standard of learning provided.  Tourism is booming as Europeans discover the wonders of our region through events such as the Tour de Yorkshire.  Young workers from across the continent keep our farms, factories, hospitals, care homes and many more essential businesses alive.  And much of the vibrancy of our major towns and cities comes from the wonderful contribution of EU citizens who have chosen to make their lives here.

There is so much to celebrate about Britain’s place in the European Union.  Let’s keep it – and let us seize the opportunities that would open up to a reformed and confident UK in the great fellowship of nations that is the EU!
Richard Wilson
Chair, Leeds for Europe
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Leeds for Europe Logo
On 24 March 2018 the city of Leeds saw its largest political protest in living memory when an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets to demand that the people be given the final say on the question of Brexit.

After literally bringing the city to a standstill as the marchers proceeded around the city centre from The Headrow to City Square, along Boar Lane and up Vicar Lane before returning to The Headrow in front of the city Art Gallery and Library, the marchers heard from an outstanding array of speakers.  Hosted by organiser Peter French, a rally heard from a varied and stimulating range of leading figures in the anti-Brexit movement including Richard Corbett MEP, AC Grayling, Jonathan Bartley and Lord Adonis.

The day's events were widely captured on video and were reported on BBC Look North, ITV Calendar, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Live.  You can see some of these highlights here: 
ITV Calendar
Leeds Live
Yorkshire Post

About The Great Northern March

Leeds for Europe launched the Great Northern March to co-incide with the one year anniversary of the triggering of Article 50.  It was intended to be one of the largest anti-Brexit demonstrations ever seen, and almost certainly the largest protest march ever seen in Yorkshire.  

We worked closely with the Stop Brexit March team - organisers of the excellent Stop Brexit march in Manchester on 1 October 2017 and the massive Unite for Europe march in London in March 2017, which had been attended by an estimated 120,000 people.  Peter French and the rest of the team used their excellent experience of publicising and organising events of the huge scale that we had in mind for the Great Northern March.

The intention from the start had been to create a fantastic event which would have a material impact on the Stop Brexit campaign.  This depended upon a very large number of peope participating on the day, which took a massive effort to spread the word far and wide.  Thanks to the efforts of our members and supporters we relied on attracting friends, family, work colleagues, political contacts and the general Yorkshire public to the event, all tied together by one common thread - a determination to Stop Brexit!
We united the north of England for the event, with people travelling from across Yorkshire, Lancashire, the north east, the north west and the Midlands to be there.  In fact, it developed into an event of national significance.
You can read more about the Great Northern March at  www.stopbrexitmarch.com, where you will also find information about future marches which are already being planned.
If we are going to Stop Brexit we will need everyone who shares our objective to be coordinated, to encourage one another, promote each other's initiatives and - on occasion - to work for each other.  It was therefore genuinely inspiring to see how other groups rushed to support the Great Northern March.  We were moved by this and wish to pay tribute to all of the groups and people from across the country who stepped in to help.  Please forgive us if we miss anyone off the following list - no disrespect is intended!

YORK FOR EUROPE: Our nearest neighbours and one of the first groups to spring into action after the referendum.  They have been out come rain or shine promoting the march.  We look forward to seeing a substantial group making the short journey down from the historic city of York.

SHEFFIELD FOR EUROPEGreat to see this group re-invigorated recently after a dormant period.  This is a real sign of the growth and increasing confidence of the anti-Brexit movement.  We look forward to working closely with our South Yorkshire friends in the coming months.

NORTH EAST FOR EUROPE:  Pioneers of regional Stop Brexit marching with their excellent 'North East March for Europe' in March 2017, we owe this group a debt of gratitude for showing us the catalytic effect that marches and rallies can have.  We wish them a successful event the day after the Great Northern March, on the following day, 25 March 2018.

MANCHESTER FOR EUROPE:  Late comers to the anti-Brexit scene, they have made up for it by making a massive contribution, not least with their day of action around the Conservative Party conference in October 2017, which Leeds for Europe were proud to support.

LIVERPOOL FOR EUROPE:  Another great northern city, which delivered an impressive 58% Remain vote in the referendum.  It will be nice to welcome our Liverpool friends back to Leeds, having appreciated their support for our previous, smaller events.

STOCKPORT FOR EUROPE: A wonderfully active group, apparently not at all over-awed by their proximity to neighbouring Manchester!

LANCASTER FOR EUROPE: Great supporters of the Great Northern March, we look forward to welcoming the Lancaster group to Leeds.

LANCASHIRE FOR EUROPE: We have agreed to a truce in the War of the Roses so that we can unite against the common enemy - Brexit!

NORTH WEST FOR EUROPE: An umbrella group for the various North West groups and for people who do not fall under any of the other local groups within the region.

HOPE FOR EUROPE: Great name!  But, it actually refers to this group's location, in the beautiful Hope Valley in the Peak District in Derbyshire.  If you are in the area, you may like to join their social event in Bamford on the evening before the Great Northern March.  We hope they will be in a fit state to make the journey to Leeds the following morning!

EU IN BRUMA special mention to our Midlands friends, who took the brave decision to cancel their own plans and throw themselves into supporting the Great Northern March instead.  EU In Brum will be running a coach to Leeds, tickets for which are still available via Eventbrite.

BRITAIN FOR EUROPE: Our umbrella organisation, uniting local and regional groups whilst retaining a strong emphasis on grass roots campaigning.  Britain for Europe facilitates the sharing of ideas between groups, whilst encouraging local autonomy, and represents the activist groups at the national level.

EUROPEAN MOVEMENT: Founded shortly after the Second World War, the European Movement has long promoted European values and the benefits of the UK's membership of the European Union.  It has now found a new role, working alongside the other organisations, such as Britain for Europe, which have sprung up in response to the EU Referendum result of 2016. 

BEST FOR BRITAIN: Another organisation formed as a result of the EU Referendum, this organisation focuses on training activists and supporting individuals and groups who wish to campaign against Brexit.  Famously, Best for Britain has been enormously successful in raising funds to finance the campaign and to pay for legal actions aimed at ensuring that democratic processes are upheld during the Brexit process.

STOP BREXIT LTD.: The team behind the phenomenally successful Stop Brexit march in Manchester on 1 October 2017, Stop Brexit Ltd. provided fantastic support to Leeds for Europe in organising the Great Northern March.  Put quite simply, an event on this scale would not have been achieved without the expertise and incredible commitment to the cause put in by this team and we were enormously grateful to them for their involvement.
The Speakers
A raft of exciting speakers addressed the rally after the conclusion of the Great Northern March on 24 March.  Speakers included:

JONATHAN BARTLEY - CO-LEADER OF THE GREEN PARTY OF ENGLAND AND WALES: Elected as joint Leader of the Green Party, alongside Caroline Lucas MP, in September 2016, Jonathan Bartley has a track record of being very vocal about his concerns over Brexit from a wide range of angles. Seeing beyond the illusion of it being a matter of foreign policy and sovereignty, he has joined others in pointing out that it is a direct attack on civil rights, workers rights and environmental protection.

LORD ADONIS: Andrew Adonis is one of the most outspoken critics of Brexit, which he famously described as a “dangerous, populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump” and just a “big mistake”.  He is also known for his strong opposition to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is due to end its journey through parliament around the time of the march, referring to it as “the worst legislation of my lifetime”.  He has in recent times been a relentless campaigner against Brexit.

ELOISE TODD: Eloise became the Chief Executive Officer of anti-Brexit campaign organisation, Best for Britain in January 2016.  Originally from East Yorkshire, having been born just outside Hull, she is highly concerned that her home turf will be among the places where the impact of Brexit will be felt the hardest.

PROFESSOR AC GRAYLING: Another utterly tireless and determined campaigner against Brexit, Anthony Grayling is well known to us in Leeds for Europe, having addressed an enthralled audience at our public meeting in May 2017.  We are delighted to welcome him back to Leeds.  He has written a number of books, the latest being " Democracy and Its Crisis".

JOAN PONS LAPLANA: is a healthcare professional from Spain, who has dedicated himself to the NHS for over 17 years.  His  passionate appearances at numerous rallies over the past one and a half years have turned him into one of the most prominent spokesmen for EU citizens in the UK who readily identify with his experiences.

ELENA REMIGI: Elena is the founder and director of the Our Brexit Testimonies group and a co-editor of the book " In Limbo: Brexit Testimonies from EU Citizens in the UK".  Since the book was published in June 2017, she  has toured the country, speaking at workshops, protests and other events,  including an appearance at the Stop Brexit Manchester march at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2017 alongside her co-author Veronique Martin.

SUE WILSON: Sue is the chair of Bremain in Spain, a group campaigning for the UK to remain in the European Union and to protect the rights of British migrants living in Spain, as well as a steering committee member of British in Europe.  Passionate about Freedom of Movement, as well as the many other political, economic and social rights that the EU grants to the citizens of its member states, Sue is well-known for her tireless work in defending the interests of the community she represents.

RICHARD CORBETT MEP: Richard is well known to Leeds for Europe, having kindly supported several of our previous campaign events.  First elected as an MEP in 1996, he has represented Yorkshire & the Humber since 1999.  He is Leader of the Labour Members of the European Parliament, part of the centre-left Socialists & Democrats group.  Richard is also Vice Chair of the UK European Movement and also Chair in the European Parliament of the Labour Movement for Europe.

OFOC! (Our Future, Our Choice): OFOC! was founded and is led by Femi Oluwole, Lara Spirit, Will Dry, and Calum Millbank-Murphy. It now has over a hundred leaders at universities across the UK, together with others mobilising young people in work, at school or in training to campaign against Brexit.  We are delighted that all four of these inspirational young people will be at the Great Northern March to speak for the generation that will be most adversely affected by Brexit.  Find out more and join the OFOC! campaign at  ofoc.co.uk.
Click the button below to see reports on some of the other activities that Leeds for Europe have organised or participated in since we were formed in January 2017.
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