Did you vote to leave the EU and lose friends? Do you have to hide your views at work? Want somewhere you can meet like-minded people in a non-confrontational environment? Then Leavers of Britain is for you.
More than two years after a referendum that divided the UK deeply, Brexit supporters have formed their own social club to escape the hostile atmosphere they say they endure on the streets and airwaves.
Lucy Harris, a 28-year-old classically trained singer, founded the group in London after finding her views shouted down regularly. Last year, she said, a man yelled at her on the Underground, calling her a racist for carrying a bag with the slogan “The EU’s not my bag”.
Since then she has met many people who say they have not been able to “come out” at work or even to their family for fear of being vilified. She parted with her Remain-voting boyfriend. “People who voted Leave are told they are bigots or stupid. They are decent, good people. They deserve the benefit of the doubt.”
So Ms Harris quit her job in publishing and established a national group in November. It now has more than 4,000 members, with 1,200 in London. There are more than 30 groups across the country, mainly in Remain voting cities such as Cambridge, Glasgow and Bristol. The group’s Facebook page has almost 11,000 followers.
Ms Harris grew up in Suffolk but lived in Italy for two years. The referendum was the first time she had voted because she believed it was the only time it would make a difference. “I just think we have to make our own laws for our country,” she said. “You would think we had not won the vote if you read the media.” The group allows people to “let off steam”, she said, in a world dominated by Remainers.
There is no membership fee but the group accepts donations. “The London group has a lot of City boys and they are generous,” Ms Harris said.
At a meeting of the Manchester chapter in a city centre pub on January, 17 people met and some talked of how they could not tell family and work colleagues how they voted.
Sue Mortimer, a pensioner, said she had “never given Europe a thought” before the 2016 campaign. She voted out after hearing the arguments and was appalled that the UK might not leave. It was now time to annoy her children and join demonstrations in favour of Brexit, she said.
The meeting that night was led by Seamus Martin, who grew up as a Catholic in Northern Ireland but converted to Islam in 1998. The chair, a member of the Communist party of Britain Marxist-Leninist was absent; she was in Cuba attending celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the revolution. Mr Martin, who chairs the UK Independence party in Greater Manchester, handed out the party’s brochure entitled “Brexit, let’s get on with it!”. “It’s the best argument for a no-deal Brexit I have seen,” he said.
The group included trade unionists, Conservative voters and Ukip members. Many said they had been impressed by Ms Harris’ TV and radio appearances and social media posts. Most sought a renewal of politics, with “arrogant” MPs and peers denounced as “nobodies”.
All said they could relax in the company of fellow Brexiters — but their reasons for wanting to Leave differed greatly.
Mervyn Drage, a member of Unite, said “working class people want out”. “If we are in the EU we cannot change our economy. We cannot nationalise the Post Office or the railways. It is a web of bureaucracy. It is not a democracy.”
Francis Arbour agreed that the EU was a tool of corporate interests. “Nobody voted for globalisation”, which had ripped through north-west England, closing factories and changing neighbourhoods with an influx of immigrants. “We need to end free movement,” he said.
Mark Adams, 35, has a PhD in economics. He is “pro-free trade and pro-immigration”, he said. “The EU is protectionist. We need more flexible regulation.” He would open the borders to cheap imported food, for example.
None favoured the government’s proposed deal, preferring a “clean break” on World Trade Organization terms. They vowed they would campaign vigorously in a second referendum.
One young man, who did not wish to give his name, said he worked for a tech company. “I will not sit here and idly watch the referendum result slip from our fingers. We are on the right side of history,” he said.
Mr Martin handed out bundles of leaflets backing Leave and gave a short tutorial on how and where to deliver them.
Polls show voter sentiment on Brexit remains split. John Curtice, chief commentator at What UK Thinks, which collates data, says its poll of polls on a second referendum has a growing Remain lead of 54 per cent to 46 per cent in January. But he said the shift was mostly due to young pro-Remain voters who were not old enough to vote in 2016, rather than people changing their minds.
Ms Harris said the Leavers of Britain movement could be used to fight a second referendum, though she opposes the idea. But she added that she has no desire to form a political party. “It is a social experiment. People used to gather in pubs and social clubs to talk politics. It is a time to talk about principles and values.
“There’s not time for that in a party. There’s too much aggravation. It’s all-out war.”