A Remain campaigner got the surprise of his life when the Labour leader cycled past him on a bank holiday ramble – and he took the opportunity to pose some hard-hitting questions.
Secondary school teacher and anti-Brexit activist Peter Roberts had decided to give himself a bit of time off from politics over the bank holiday weekend by heading out in a pair of shorts for a sunny ramble in Hambledon Valley, in the Chilterns.
However, it seems like Jeremy Corbyn and his wife had had much the same idea. “Except they are cycling and, unlike you, neither is topless,” quipped Roberts in a Facebook post about the moment he spotted them.
Roberts called out to Corbyn and the couple stopped for a chat. “Fair play to him,” writes Roberts. “At first he was tetchy, and I can understand why.”
The history and geography teacher has spent much of the last three years campaigning both online and in the streets with High Wycombe’s ‘Pulse of Europe’ campaign group, having conversations with the public about the Brexit argument. On the bank holiday, as fate would have it, it was Corbyn’s turn to join the debate.
After apologising for the abrupt interruption, Roberts put the question that the Remain population of Britain has never had a satisfactory answer to: “Why, oh why, won’t you take a strong line on Brexit and just oppose it? There are loads of us out here just waiting and ready!”
He reports Corbyn’s reply as: “If it’s a choice between a hard Brexit and Remain, we will campaign for Remain.”
“What he was not explicitly saying is ‘we’re for Remain’,” commented Roberts afterwards.
He asked the Labour leader whether any form of Brexit is better than what we have now, and couldn’t get a straight reply. But “his body language said ‘no’,” reported Roberts to the New European.
In the discussion that followed – which you can read in full here – the teacher pointed out what Remainers are often dying to get across: that the 2016 referendum should never have been based on a simple majority; that it was legally and constitutionally advisory; and that the country is ruled by parliamentary democracy, not plebiscite.
“I’d not pointed out something new to him: he knows it,” wrote Roberts afterwards. “They ALL know it.”
“I disagree with Corbyn’s approach to Brexit,” he continues. “It breaks my heart that he buys into – or at least won’t oppose – this ridiculous, wrong idea that the 2016 vote was ‘an instruction’ when it was simply advice which parliament must consider when judging what is in the national interest.
“In that sense he is no better than May, though he won’t like me saying that because he is in all other ways better than her. Having met him in these extraordinary circumstances won’t lessen my opposition until he or another takes Labour firmly into the Remain camp.”
One thing that was very clear, adds Roberts, is how Corbyn is “personally very upset” at his media treatment even at the hands of pro-Remain media like the Guardian and the Times, as well as the BBC.
“I think he is right in many ways,” writes Roberts. “But … is the breadth and intensity of opposition not also down to his equivocal position on Brexit?”
After the ten-minute conversation had run its course, Corbyn’s wife offered to take a picture of the pair of them. “She didn’t have to do that,” said Roberts, pointing out how pleasant the whole encounter had been, even though Corbyn had been “defensive to begin with”.
“Which is understandable if anyone jumped out of a hedge at you with no clothes on,” added Roberts, slightly exaggerating.
Roberts and the Corbyns called out a friendly “no pasaran!” and “venceremos!” [“we shall overcome!”] to each other as they parted ways.
“It was a pleasure to converse honestly and fairly openly with a decent man and his spouse on a day out in the country,” admitted Roberts.
His Facebook post describing the encounter has spurred a wealth of online discussion and has had over 220 shares.
But the campaigner still has many concerns for the Remain campaign, and not just with Corbyn.
He said he is more concerned about “soft Remainers” than the far-right – even though Brexiteers have spat at him in the street for the views he holds.
“It’s soft Remainers, who have the idea that to oppose the referendum is undemocratic,” he told the New European. Remain has a majority both in parliament and with the people, but all energy is going on convincing Leavers rather than emboldening Remainers to stand against the referendum result, he argued.
“That idea is not being opposed, either in the media or in the street,” he said.