ReJoinEU mayoral candidate: The voices of Londoners who voted Remain are ‘being ignored’

"Brexit won the day, we’ve had Brexit but there are problems with Brexit, and trying to ignore those problems, sweep them under the carpet just isn’t working,” said Hewison.

The former Lib Dem candidate for mayor of London officially endorsed the ReJoinEU party in the race for city hall on Monday. But who are they?

After Siobhan Benita turned her back on her old party over their inability to express the effect Brexit is having on London and the rest of the country, we spoke to pro-European candidate Richard Hewison about what he stands for.

Hewison called the endorsement from the former Lib Dem politician a ‘major boost’ to the ReJoinEU campaign.

“Siobhan is an amazing person and she has worked so hard in London to unite the causes of rejoining the EU, electoral reform, kindness in politics and society, she’s someone I have great admiration for, so it is an absolute thrill that she has come out and said what she said today,” he said.

On a possible roadmap for rejoining the EU

 “If any of the opposition parties could answer that question, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. That is the starting point really, there has to be a roadmap.

“Brexit is a disaster, we can see that clearly unfolding in front of our eyes. I won’t bore you with statistics, but the amount of suffering, misery, people losing jobs, people being forced out of their homes in Europe, people who have made lifetime decisions that are now being changed, it’s just unconscionable, and something has to happen.

“Obviously from our point of view, we think we’ve made a mistake, and when you make a mistake, you ‘fess up and say ok, it didn’t work out the way we wanted, we thought it was going to be this, it’s not, let’s talk about how we can mend things,” he said.

On what a vote for him can do for the people of London

“Strangely enough, I don’t think we’re going to win the mayor seat in London,” he quipped.

“But there are certain common-sense things that any mayor of London could do.

“For example we are proposing things like the Brexit bureaucracy busters office, to basically try to help take the pressure off businesses who are desperately trying to trade with Europe, trying to assist artists who are trying to travel and get visas for Europe, and the other way coming to Britain as well.

“In terms of what the impact is for London, well, millions of Londoners voted to stay in the EU in the last referendum, and I think a lot of them, like me, just feel like our voices are being ignored. Ok, Brexit won the day, we’ve had Brexit but there are problems with Brexit, and trying to ignore those problems, sweep them under the carpet just isn’t working.”

What he makes of the current mayor

“I think Sadiq Khan is going to get re-elected. I have nothing against Sadiq Khan, he seems like a nice guy, but let’s be honest: the reason he’s going to be re-elected is because he’s harmless.

“He’s a nice person, but where is he? He’s quite often the invisible mayor in London, he is not speaking out on a lot of the major international issues that are affecting London’s service sectors and finance industry in particular on a day to day basis.”

Policy wishlist priorities: Erasmus, the performing arts and financial services under Brexit

Hewison said: “We would introduce Erasmus-style grants, even if we can’t get London back in the Erasmus scheme as a city, we can certainly try to get a lot of people who study in London those benefits back. We believe that we can fund about 10,000 Erasmus-style grants and that would come out of taxation, go on to council tax, but that would be £3.40 per person, per year.”

“A lot of artists are struggling with actually getting abroad to perform, we will try to make their life easy.  We will have an office with advisors that will help with the paperwork. And coming the other way, of course: a lot of the overseas talent that could come to London is currently being locked out of the country because of Brexit so we are losing a lot of the cultural richness we had from people actually coming to London. We have an idea of a couple of schemes  that could make it easier to get cultural live performances back to London from the European Union as well.”

“The other area is financial services and we need to enter into a phase of regulatory diplomacy. We have a very poor agreement on financial services, it has just been hammered out at the last moment, before the March 31 deadline. We see London moving away from the EU financial markets, not further towards them, and that has to cease.”

As record numbers leave the capital over Brexit, what its future could look like

Hewison pointed out that his team of 11 standing for the Assembly includes Europeans and other nationals who have made London their home and want to continued to do so.

“They all testify how London is a shining beacon of tolerance to many other countries in the world, and we want to keep it that way.

“So no, I hope the unique and diverse character of London is not going to be lost, and we want to stand in this election to show there is still a supportive voice for Europeans within London,” he said.

Even in in an effectively cinched race, votes matter

“What I would urge Londoners to consider is: Sadiq Khan has won, he is going to be the next mayor, this is just a coronation. You have a choice in this election, because you have two votes. You could use your first vote, or your second vote to choose between Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey.

“If you chose your first vote, you are saying you are absolutely uncritical of anything that has happened in either the Labour or Conservative camps in London when you vote. If you give one of the two leading candidates your second vote, you get a chance to use your first vote to show what you really care about.

“Obviously, I would like to persuade you to vote for us and RejoinEU but there are lots of other parties all promoting very important issues in this election. I would urge all voters, even if it’s not us you give your vote to, think carefully about who you give your first vote to because when Sadiq does win, wheree his second votes come from, is something that you will have to listen to,” he added.

This interview has been edited for clarity

Sophia Dourou is a freelance journalist

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