Rain or shine, Mr. No Brexit gives his mes­sage

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD - By Alice Ritchie

LON­DON: A sin­gle voice rings out through the or­nate cor­ri­dors of Bri­tain’s Houses of Par­lia­ment, a reg­u­lar shout from the street with a sim­ple mes­sage: “Stoooppp Brexit!”

Wear­ing a blue top hat with a gold band styled on the Euro­pean Union flag, Steve Bray has spent more than a year stand­ing out­side Par­lia­ment in an ex­traor­di­nar­ily per­sis­tent protest.

Now that mem­bers of Par­lia­ment pre­pare to make a his­toric de­ci­sion Tues­day on whether or not to ac­cept a Brexit deal agreed with EU lead­ers, the 59-year-old is ready with plac­ards and flags.

“I talk to MPs, and I ask them how Brexit ben­e­fits me.

“There are no good pos­i­tive an­swers,” he tells AFP.

Bray’s most ef­fec­tive tool is gate­crash­ing live tele­vi­sion in­ter­views, a tac­tic that ir­ri­tates pro­duc­ers but gets him on the news most nights.

Bray told AFP he wants to “get the mes­sage out” – and it has made him fa­mous.

“You’re a hero!” said one passerby, one of many who come up to shake his hand.

“It’s not about me,” he de­murred, but gamely raised his flags for a pic­ture.

Bray and his sup­port­ers are step­ping up their protests out­side Par­lia­ment ahead of next week’s vote.

“We al­ready have the best deal,” reads the plac­ard that he shakes in the air as cars driv­ing past hoot their horns.

Bray has been out­side Par­lia­ment ev­ery­day that it has been in ses­sion since Septem­ber 2017 – nor­mally for seven hours at a time – what­ever the weather.

There are other reg­u­lar pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing a group of opera singers who walk around Par­lia­ment Square singing “Ode to Joy,” but few are as com­mit­ted.

His home is kilo­me­ters away in the south­ern Welsh town of Port Tal­bot, but he stays in a Lon­don flat pro­vided by sup­port­ers, shar­ing it with a looka­like of Brex­i­teer for­mer For­eign Minister Boris Johnson.

Bray de­scribes him­self as self­em­ployed – he col­lects and sells rare coins – but he’s backed by an uniden­ti­fied anti-Brexit cam­paign, some­thing that his crit­ics are keen to high­light.

“He’s do­ing what he’s paid to do,” said Robert Wright, a Brexit sup­porter who notes point­edly that he him­self comes to Par­lia­ment each week as a vol­un­teer.

Wright and the oth­ers hold­ing up “Leave Means Leave” signs are also op­posed to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, ar­gu­ing it does not of­fer the clean break with the EU that many voted for in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

The mood is largely am­i­ca­ble as they jos­tle on the pave­ment with the pro-Euro­peans, min­gling with tourists, law­mak­ers and peers walk­ing past.

“We agree it’s a lousy deal,” Bray re­marked to a woman with a “Leave” sign who is us­ing his own tac­tics and gate­crash­ing his in­ter­view with AFP.

But there can be ten­sions. He says he has re­ceived threats to beat him up, and said re­cent vis­its by far­right ac­tivists were “a bit hairy.”

“Loser Steven! Loser!” shouts one man who seeks Bray out to tell him how mis­guided he is.

Bray be­lieves a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum could de­liver a dif­fer­ent re­sult.

“The facts peo­ple were given were ma­nip­u­lated, they were all told the were go­ing to be bet­ter off,” he said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket sci­en­tist to see that we are go­ing to be so much worse off leav­ing the EU.”

Bray is ret­i­cent about his life be­fore the Par­lia­ment protest, only not­ing that his cam­paign be­gan on so­cial me­dia dur­ing the 2016 vote, with at­tempts to per­suade friends to op­pose Brexit.

He later drove a float through Lon­don de­pict­ing May shoot­ing her­self in the mouth with a gun marked “Brexit,” and more re­cently has hoisted EU flags out­side his lo­cal coun­cil of­fices in Port Tal­bot.

Asked if he will still be here when the United King­dom leaves the Euro­pean Union on March 29 next year, he is op­ti­mistic.

“I’m cer­tain we are not leav­ing. At the end of the day com­mon sense will pre­vail,” Bray said.

Bray holds plac­ards and waves Union and EU flags as he protests out­side of the Houses of Par­lia­ment in Lon­don.

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