Divisive Brexit debate propels newcomers into politics

THEY WANT TO BE HEARD:  ( Left) Ms Jessica Simor, a 51-year-old lawyer, is standing for Change UK. (Right) Mr James Wells, 46, had to leave his civil service job to stand for the Brexit Party in the elections.
THEY WANT TO BE HEARD: ( Left) Ms Jessica Simor, a 51-year-old lawyer, is standing for Change UK. (Right) Mr James Wells, 46, had to leave his civil service job to stand for the Brexit Party in the elections.

LONDON • With no previous political experience, Ms Jessica Simor and Mr James Wells are both candidates in the upcoming European elections for rival parties born out of the divisive Brexit debate that is shaking up politics in Britain.

Just two months ago, 46-year-old Mr Wells was a civil servant working on trade data at the Office for National Statistics.

Now, he is standing in elections that were never planned because Britain was meant to be already out of the European Union.

"It has happened very suddenly," Mr Wells said.

The catalyst for him was his participation in a march from northern England to London organised by the pro-Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave. The marchers reached London on March 29 - the day that Britain had been scheduled to leave the EU but did not because of a deadlock in Parliament.

"I met some amazing people on the march that really inspired me - it was then that I kind of realised I wanted to do more than just protest, send letters to my MP and shout at the TV every night," he said.

Mr Wells was chosen as a candidate just a couple of weeks after writing to the Brexit Party and then resigned from his job as he would not have been able to stand in the polls otherwise.

A father of two children aged six and nine, Mr Wells said he had taken "a big gamble" by presenting himself.

Even if elected, he may only sit for a few weeks in the European Parliament before Britain leaves the bloc. If he loses, he will be looking for another job.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Ms Simor, a 51-year-old lawyer, is standing for Change UK.

Like the Brexit Party, Change UK is a political newcomer. The two parties claim to have about 100,000 members each.

Ms Simor said Change UK was doing well in London, which voted by nearly 60 per cent in favour of staying in the EU in the 2016 referendum. "There is massive desire for Remain in London... People are very positive, they want to stop this," she said.

Ms Simor had originally sought to fight Brexit in court, working on a case to prevent the government from launching Brexit talks without first consulting Parliament "Then these elections happened and it seems to me an opportunity for more voice within that argument," she said.

Ms Simor, who has two children aged 14 and 17, began leafleting outside London Underground stations and attending political meetings in pubs. "I thought it would be really quite boring but it is really fun and really interesting," she said.

They may not be recommending the same remedy but Ms Simor and Mr Wells agree on the diagnosis. "People are fed up with their MPs and the two-party political system and people want change," Mr Wells said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2019, with the headline 'Divisive Brexit debate propels newcomers into politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe