Anti-Brexit superhero Madeleina Kay: ’You don’t know what you have until it’s taken away from you’

, by Juuso Järviniemi

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Anti-Brexit superhero Madeleina Kay: 'You don't know what you have until it's taken away from you'
Madeleina Kay performing at the March for Europe co-organised by Young European Movement Edinburgh (JEF-Edinburgh) and the European Movement in Scotland in March 2018. Madeleina is Young European Movement UK’s (JEF-UK) Ambassador, promoting pro-EU messaging in the UK beside Brexit criticism. Photo: Alexandra Person

For more than two decades, Schwarzkopf-Stiftung has given the Young European of the Year award to a European dedicated to promoting European unity. This year’s award has been granted to Madeleina Kay, the pro-European activist from Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

Madeleina Kay is well-known for her “Alba White Wolf” brand, referring to her white German shepherd called Alba, and her EU Supergirl character. Among other things, she has made children’s books such as Alba White Wolf’s Adventures in Europe, written Brexit-themed protest and parody songs such as “Fields of Wheat”, performed at pro-European events and been escorted out of a Michel Barnier/David Davis press conference while dressed in a Supergirl outfit.

With Britain’s Article 50 clock ticking towards 29 March, 2019, activists such as Madeleina Kay are calling for a referendum on any Brexit deal to be reached between British and EU27 negotiators. Whether the mission is successful or not, public opinion on European Union membership remains divided in the UK. From among anti-Brexit activists, Madeleina has become known as one ’who waves the EU flag with pride’, and who is engaged in the painstaking process of generating European identity in the UK. We interviewed the Young European of the Year about her characters, life on the campaign trail and Britain’s European future.

Juuso Järviniemi (JJ): What was your relationship to the European Union before you got into pro-EU campaigning? How did your European engagement begin?

Madeleina Kay (MK): "I had never been involved with political campaigning before the Brexit vote on 23rd June 2016, and to my great discredit I was not part of the Remain campaign before the referendum. I did, of course, vote to Remain based the knowledge of the EU I had picked up mainly from my parents, who are both university academics, and my experiences studying with ERASMUS students, travelling in Europe and working in France.

However, my knowledge of the EU, compared to what I know and understand now, was quite frankly, very poor. Sadly, I think it is one of those unfortunate instances where you do not know what you have until it is taken away from you. The Brexit vote shocked me into political activism, and in the course of my campaigning since, I have learnt so much more about what the EU does, how it functions and what the disastrous consequences of Brexit will be for the UK. What is most concerning, is that my level of knowledge prior to the EU referendum, despite being woefully inadequate to make an informed decision, was probably better than that of most other people. Brexit is a decision born of ignorance, where the ill-informed were lied to, manipulated and misled. One of the key aims of my campaign now is to simply and effectively communicate the truth about Brexit and the EU in a way that is fun, easily understandable and engaging to people who are bored by politics."

JJ: You have performed as a pirate and as a Supergirl. What inspires your design of characters and costumes? Why Supergirl?

MK: "I have many different costumes, with different themes. There is a “saboteur pirate”, EU Supergirl, an “EU Christmas elf”, a “Royal Mail post woman” and an “EU nurse” outfit. The general purpose of the fancy dress costumes is to create an engaging character that grabs attention and engages people with the ideas we are trying to communicate.

One thing I learnt fairly early on is that the media love a good image, because it helps them to tell a story. Dressing up in costumes and making stand-out placards is a sure-fire way to achieve press coverage and get your message across. It’s also a bit of fun inspiring the imagination and motivating others to keep campaigning. The concept behind the EU Supergirl outfit is very simple: Britain needs a hero to save it from Brexit. I also think the EU needs a hero to save it from the rise in populism across the EU and also to help the institutions engage more effectively with citizens."

JJ: You have been engaged in pro-European activities for nearly two years. In what ways has the atmosphere changed in the UK during that time?

MK: "I would say overall, it has stayed much the same. There has been a slight improvement recently, with more people supporting the campaign and speaking out against Brexit. However, in general, the UK is still a very divided nation, and its citizens very confused about the shifting political landscape. It’s tragic to see. There are a lot of people, families and communities in deprived areas suffering at the hands of Westminster.

The inequality in the UK is horrifying, and these poverty-stricken communities were missold Brexit as a solution by Tory elites with perverse motivations. Brexit wasn’t something they even asked for, but they believed in good faith that it would bring opportunities and hope to their lives. These people are rightly angry at the way they have been treated, but they need to understand that it is Westminster that is to blame for their deprivation, not Brussels. However, communicating this message when we have been drip-fed Eurosceptic rhetoric by the right-wing press for decades is an almost insurmountable challenge. Healing the divide that Brexit has driven right into the heart of the UK will be a long and painful process."

JJ: What have your most memorable campaigning experiences been so far?

MK: "I have had so many incredible experiences and opportunities and met so many incredible people through the course of my campaign, I don’t know where to start! The #EUsupergirl stunt was probably my big breakthrough moment, but self-publishing my books, winning the “EUinmyRegion” blogging competition and travelling to Brussels for the first time, winning the “Great British postcard Competition” (I have yet to visit Dresden, the prize for that trip) and also travelling to Berlin for the first time, for the interview for “Young European of the Year”, have all been meaningful experiences.

Debating on Channel 4 News and BBC Radio 4 Any Questions panel debates were also big opportunities, and slamming Nigel Farage on BBC’s Daily Politics show was one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for! Meeting the likes of Bob Geldof and Eddie Izzard was also pretty cool, but it is the friendships that I have formed through shared experiences and working with people that are the most meaningful and cherished outcomes of all.“JJ: In the rest of the EU, some fear that if the UK stays in the EU, it will remain”an awkward partner" whose presence makes it more difficult for the EU to find common solutions to problems. How would you respond to this argument?

MK: "My understanding is that the UK has always been a foot-dragging pedant, much to the irritation of more enthusiastic member states. However, this has not necessarily been to the Union’s disadvantage. Having a critical, sceptical view can often be beneficial in terms of providing constructive criticism and helping to reform policies. There is Euroscepticism in many EU member states, and the EU would do well to remember that “Brexit” is not problem exclusive to Britain. We need to learn from Britain’s mistake to combat problems arising in other countries.

Moreover, the leading EU politicans have made it clear that the door remains open to Britain if we wish to withdraw Article 50 because Britain’s EU membership is a mutually beneficial relationship. I would hope that if Britain were to return, it would be slightly humbled and more willing to seek compromise."

JJ: What do you plan to do over the next months? How do you think your Young European of the Year award will help you in your efforts?

MK: "The Young European of the Year award is a huge help to me in terms of providing me with legitimacy in the face of critics and the official campaigning organisations. As an artist/performer, unfunded by any official body, I am something of a rogue character and I do receive a lot of criticism which this accolade will help me to challenge.

Being the Young European of the Year is also providing me with opportunities to disseminate my message further. I will be travelling to Strasbourg twice in June and also to Berlin as well as other events i’ve been invited to speak at. In April, I will be travelling to Brussels for the screening of a documentary I am part of called “Postcards from the 48%” at the European Parliament. I am also joining the “Is It Worth It?” Brexit bus tour for another week around the country later this month. I get invited to a lot of local and national events but these are usually arranged at shorter notice! Whatever I end up doing I’m sure it will continue to be an intense, exciting, passionate and positive campaign to Stop Brexit."

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