“This ride to Brussels is our side of Brexit argument”
After parliament returned last week so MPs could chat about the ‘B’ word in their own unique ways, the debate in Sheffield took a more civilised turn.
“It’s been brilliant,” said Paul Truin, after cycling along the Five Weirs Walk to Rotherham and back, on a Brompton folding bicycle bearing Union, EU and Yorkshire flags, wearing a blue beret bedecked in golden stars, in the pouring rain.
“We’ve had no negative comments today. Just positive toots.”
Paul was not alone as he cycled through Leave-voting South Yorkshire along the EU-funded waterside paths and industrial estates between the EU-funded railways stations at Sheffield and Rotherham.
Several other supporters of Sheffield for Europe rode through the rain too, one on a laid back recumbent cycle, and two more trundling along cheerfully on electric assisted monster trikes, ponchos flapping.
Saturday was a ‘dry run’ (logistically if not meteorologically) for the first stage of the ‘Bike to Brussels’ by two Sheffield women setting out on October 13th to ride more than 200 miles to the crucial EU Council meeting on 17th and 18th October.
Jane Thomas and Joanne Chapman will deliver a video ‘love letter’ to MEPs and EU officials, and then return by ferry to join the next People’s Vote rally in London on Saturday 19th.
“We met a man who said he was planning to ride to the rally in London last March on a horse,” laughed Jane, “even though he didn’t have a horse.”So we said we’d go to London by bike, and we really enjoyed it. So then we said let’s go to Brussels.”
“Riding a bike to Brussels gets attention,” said Joanne. “People say what good can two cyclists do? “Well, we can highlight what other people can do, like go to London on the 19th.”
Both women have been promoting the EU and what it’s done for South Yorkshire since long before anyone had heard the word ‘Brexit’.
Last Saturday’s ride aimed to highlight a series of EU funded buildings and post-industrial regeneration areas between Sheffield city centre and Rotherham, as well as the riverside walking and cycling routes.
“When our mines shut, the EU was our get out of jail card, we were able to receive EU funding which came direct to our regions,” said Jane, a consultant who worked on the Remain campaign in South Yorkshire in 2016, adding that EU funding is still helping projects like the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre on the Sheffield / Rotherham border.
“The AMRC and the universities and the NHS are so reliant on collaboration within the EU, if we do leave, I just don’t see where the sunny uplands are for us here?”
Jane and Joanne say the People’s Vote is the logical conclusion to restoring democracy to the argument.
“We’ve all learned so much over the last three years,” said Joanne, who studied European and International Law before joining Sheffield for Europe.“The Irish border never came up in the referendum for example. We know what we’re voting for now.”
She says for most ordinary people the economic arguments for leaving have fallen away, whereas she believes the EU Tax Avoidance Directive due in January is driving the urgency to get out by the end of 2019 from wealthier Brexit supporters.
“That’s why they’re so keen to leave the EU,” she said. “They’re just looking after their money.”
Joanne and Jane proudly wear their EU flagged cycling jerseys as they train and ride around Sheffield without any problems, said Joanne. But they’ll probably wear a jacket covering the flags on the busy roads through East Yorkshire, she added.
Sheffield for Europe has received a veiled death threat in the past, but Joanne puts that down to ‘keyboard warriors’.
“You can’t be threatened by it. You can’t be defeated by it,” she said.
“Apart from a small pocket of nutcases, I think people don’t want to give anyone any grief. I think most people realise it’s just a difference of opinion.”
“I think it’s time for sensible heads and for all sides of the argument to be heard,” said Jane.“And this is our side of the argument.”
More information is available at: https://www.sheffieldforeurope.org.uk