Alice RITCHIE –
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 in an extraordinarily persistent protest.
Now that MPs prepare to make a historic decision on 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 says.
Bray’s most effective tool is gate-crashing live television interviews, a tactic that irritates producers but gets him on the news most nights.
Bray said 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 he shakes in the air as cars driving past hoot their horns.
Bray has been outside parliament every day 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 miles 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 self-employed — he collects and sells rare coins — but is backed by an unidentified anti-Brexit campaign, something 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, MPs and peers walking past.
“We agree it’s a lousy deal,” Bray said 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 far-right 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 they 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. — AFP