Brexit is the defining political word of modern day Britain. It has been for a couple of years now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The EU referendum in June 2016 narrowly decided that Britain should leave the European Union. It caused societal upset and political upheaval which continues unabated, appearing to intensify rather than weaken.
With the issue of Brexit comes a loud parade of noise, signs, symbols, flags, debate, argument, insults and abuse from both sides: supporters of ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’. From the street level to the EU negotiating table, much about the stark divisions appears difficult. There is noise and chaos. There are platitudes and sound-bites attempting to disguise general ignorance and cluelessness.
From the top down, it seems nobody really knows what’s going to happen, although a sizeable fraction of the population fears the worst, primarily for the British economy. In the longer term there may be security issues. Who knows how vulnerable it could leave our island?
One grey mid-January Saturday morning in 2018 there was a small gathering of people on the steps of the Senedd building in Cardiff Bay. Gatherings of people on the steps of the Senedd building are not uncommon. Here, however, there were clearly two separate congregations. A smaller group of around 15-20 people removed themselves to one side, beneath the Senedd sign. Here were Luke Nash-Jones, Director of The People’s Charter Foundation and Martin Costello of UKIP Swindon, organisers of the ‘non-partisan Pro-Brexit Rally’. Initially removed to the other side of the building was a larger group of counter protesters comprised of Remain supporters.
Having stumbled upon a social media notice about the meeting the previous day, I was idly curious enough to visit. It was initially advertised that the reasonably high profile Assembly Minister Neil Hamilton would be in attendance to support the rally, but he failed to appear.
Organisers of the rally stood alongside a handful of their supporters and began speeches towards a video camera but no other discernible audience, besides a handful of press. Counter protesters steadily drifted over to watch and glare and shout. A moderate police presence ensured a safe distance and barrier between the two. Voices were raised and insults shouted at Nash-Jones and Costello, whose words were largely drowned out and ignored, as much as they attempted to project.
With the speeches over, there was time enough for further standoffs between both sides. One attempted dialogue between two women on opposing sides came to a quick halt.
Photographing Brexit and its many symptoms feels sad and alienating. To me it often looks faintly shambolic and like nobody is really doing themselves credit, however much they evidently care about the issues at stake. Covering a football match across town meant I left at that point, and didn’t linger for any potential confrontations as the gathering disintegrated.
A little over a month later, the UK touring Brexit Bus rolled into town and parked in front of the National Museum of Wales. As above, lively debates ensued. They will doubtless continue for some time.
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