Stop Brexit Man: Gatecrashing TV and fighting fascists with the face of Remain resistance
It is 11am just off Westminster’s College Green and, in the 20 minutes I have been with Steve Bray, he has received half a dozen selfie requests and signed a couple of autographs. A passing police officer has discreetly told him: keep up the good work.
In normal times, this may be an unusual reaction to a middle-aged coin-dealer from Port Talbot.
But then in normal times a middle-aged coin-dealer from Port Talbot might not have acquired minor celebrity status for continually gatecrashing live TV news in an EU top hat and Union Jack waistcoat.
He might not have become known as Stop Brexit Man after putting his life on hold for two years to daily bellow pro-Remain slogans through a 3ft loudhailer and brandish pro-Remain placards in the background of broadcasts.
In normal times, such behaviour, here outside parliament, would almost certainly not be applauded by passing peers of the realm.
“Keep at it, Steve,” Lord Strasburger will say later while pausing for a chat.
“It’s like this every day,” Bray tells me. “The support is relentless.”
With perfect timing, a chap walks past on a mobile phone, double-taking in our direction. “I’m in Westminster,” we hear him say. “I’ve just seen that cock with the megaphone.”
Bray, stood holding said megaphone, looks down at it momentarily. “I get a fair bit of that too,” he admits.
Then he puts it to his lips, undeterred. “Stoooopp Breeeeexiiiittt,” he booms.
It is Wednesday when I spend the day with the 50-year-old and, after a hectic week, he is playing things relatively quiet.
Breaking news that 39 people have been found dead in a truck in Essex makes him wary of waving his placards behind news presenters.
“You don’t want your signs there when they’re talking about mass deaths,” he says.
All the same, he’s good company, unfailingly friendly and – perhaps it’s just the attire? – bares more than a passing resemblance to Screaming Lord Sutch. He’s rarely without a cigarette in his mouth. “I’ll quit when they revoke Article 50,” he promises.
Of the few people who could be considered to have had a “good Brexit” – Hilary Benn, Adam Fleming, that pensioner who voted Leave and everyone cheered – Bray is chief among them.
His daily disruptions of BBC, ITV and Sky News et al may have made him a nemesis to Westminster’s news crews – and annoyed plenty of Brexiteers – but they have also given millions a much-needed laugh.
His newfound fame is such that he can no longer walk through London without being stopped by people – Leavers, Remainers – wanting to talk (or argue). “That’s if I’m in my outfit,” he clarifies. “All I have to do is take my hat off and no one recognises me any more – like Clark Kent and his glasses.”
One of his proudest moments was repeatedly drowning out a visibly deflated Mark Francois during a BBC interview this month – “idiot” was the Tory MP’s less-than-cultured comeback.
Another was appearing behind Chris Grayling after it emerged the then transport secretary had given Brexit contracts to a ferry company with no ferries. Bray held a model boat up to viewers. SS Disaster, it said.
His persistence has been such that when the BBC built a 15ft platform on the green – essentially to prevent him getting in shot – he responded by fashioning a 15ft pole to keep holding placards in view.
“I heard they spent £10,000 on that platform,” the grandfather-of-one says. “I nipped into Screwfix and bought a couple of conduits and a pack of couplings for £2.49. Job done.”
Not that the onscreen presenters themselves appear overly concerned, it should be said. Annita McVeigh defended his right to protest live on air, while Laura Kuenssberg and Victoria Derbyshire both tend to say hello, he reckons. Kay Burley, I ask? “I get an eye-roll,” he says.
Later in the day a cameraman walks past on his way to a late shift. “Good showing on the 10 o’clock last night, Steve,” he hollers over.
Bray, these days, is just one of dozens of protestors – both for and against Brexit – who gather around College Green every day. It’s a circus down there.
One woman, Elspeth Williams, had lived in Spain for almost two decades but came to London in January to campaign full-time. Another tells me she split with her husband because of their differences over the referendum. “Well, that and he’s a d***head,” she says.
Yet despite the melee of flags, chants and occasional BoJo impersonators, Bray – perhaps because he was here first – remains central.
I ask if he considers himself eccentric and he looks momentarily confused. “No,” he replies from under his top hat, megaphone by his feet.
Whatever the case, Remainers – or at least Remainists – love him.
The aforementioned Williams says that when the pair marched together during last weekend’s People’s Vote rally, he was constantly approached by well-wishers. “It was like being with Mick Jagger,” the 52-year-old translator notes.
Bray himself tells a story of once having an arm slung around his shoulders. “My missus f***ing loves you,” said its owner.
“It was only Bob Geldof,” he recalls. “He says: ‘You deserve the f***ing European medal’. I’m not sure there is a European medal but anyway: ‘All right, Bob, thank you’.”
With such star power, I venture, he might end up being offered a place on I’m A Celebrity at some point.
“In the jungle?” he ponders. “All the Leavers would keep voting to have me eat the kangaroo testicles.”
This may be true. Bray, it barely needs saying, is not beloved by everyone.
The police have placed an injunction on him to stop him using motorised loudhailers, while commentators have suggested his constant haranguing of Brexiteers may have turned some moderates towards Leave.
“Are you the annoying shouty man?” one passer-by asks him today, before the pair don’t so much debate as take it in turns to talk at each other for five minutes.
“I’ll engage with most people,” Bray tells me afterwards. “He was OK but you get some people, they’re all ‘two world wars and one world cup’ types. I don’t get involved with them.”
A group of what he calls far-right activists recently crushed his loudhailer. “It cost me 40 quid having it panel-beaten back,” he says. “Money well spent. I call it battle-worn now.”
In July, meanwhile, a clan of Tommy Robinson supporters – in central London to see their figurehead jailed for contempt of court – surrounded Bray’s car and started smashing it up. He now owns a stab-proof vest but tends not to wear it.
“There’s no point being scared,” he shrugs. “You have to keep fighting fascists.”
It is all a far cry from his pre-Brexit life.
Before the 2016 referendum, he was not only politically inactive, he had no real political views. “I didn’t realise how much was wrong with the country,” he says. “This opened my eyes.”
In September 2017, he found himself so incensed by Theresa May’s £1bn cash-for-votes deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP that he drove to London to live homeless for a week in order to withhold taxes. On his last two days in the capital, he went, on a whim, to Westminster bearing union jack and EU flags, and stood outside for 12 hours.
He has come back – roughly 7am to 10pm – every day that parliament has sat since. Why?
“Social justice,” he says. “So many communities would be devastated by Brexit that we have to make a stand. I’m serving my country. By being on the news every day, I’m showing people who feel the same that they’re not alone.”
Not that he ever expected to be here so long. He believed Brexit was so self-evidently foolish it would be dropped within a couple of months.
“Home by Christmas, I thought,” he says. For a moment, he looks tired. He gets another a cigarette. “It’s hard work,” he says. “It’s relentless.”
For the first year, he lived off his savings. Since then, he says, he has been crowdfunded. Supporters contribute through his Sodem – Stand of Defiance European Movement – webpage.
He currently lives with four other protesters in a bare flat in central London but, during 26 months down here, he has lived in 14 different places and spent the occasional night kipping in his car.
At one point, he moved into a house next door to Jacob Rees-Mogg. Seeing the MP’s son waving at him one day from a window, he gave a cheerful blast of megaphone. “And he started cheering,” says Bray. “Maybe the boy’s a secret Remainer.”
His own family is a moot point.
He is estranged from his only daughter and grandson. His parents were Leavers, and it appears to have strained that relationship too. “You know how it is with fathers,” he says. “Always difficult.”
Yet, he would not change any of this. He fell in love down here – over an EU flag – with a former BBC journalist and the couple have been together two years now. “Me, who left school at 15 and her, a Cambridge graduate,” he says. “How would we have ever met otherwise?”
More importantly, he remains adamant he is doing the right thing.
As the day draws to a close, I ask if it is not discourteous to shout TV guests down and he appears unconcerned. “These Brexiteers are talking nonsense without being challenged,” he says. “I correct that.”
When I wonder if he is undermining the fundamental principle of democratic consent, he is untroubled by self-doubt. “The referendum was built on lies,” he replies.
He will stay doing this now until Brexit is stopped – and if it’s not stopped? “I don’t plan for that any more than I plan for a meteorite hitting the earth,” he says.
Either way, when all this is over, he plans to keep campaigning one way or another. Possibly, next, he will make the argument for proportional representation.
“Before all this, my life was boring,” he says. “I worked alone, I had no social life, I had nothing, really. If there’s one good thing to come from this whole mess, it’s this community of people. Together, we can make this country a better place.”
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