At a time when our Parliamentary democracy is under threat as never before, those few courageous voices in the media and in public life who are prepared to come forward and expose corruption, wrong-doing and lying, sometimes appear to be the only upholders of our democratic system. This is the second in a series of articles that will profile some of the key figures in the fight for right over might.
If you think of defenders of democracy, certain high profile figures immediately spring to mind – Gina Miller, Steve Bray (the “shouty man”), Jolyon Maugham (the Good Law Project), or Dominic Grieve. And yet there are hundreds of others campaigning to hold the rich and powerful to account whose names are less familiar and who are rarely seen in the media.
One such inspirational figure who deserves to be better known for her achievements, (but she would probably demur) is the barrister Amanda Robinson. The initiator of the LoveEU campaign (“a love letter to Europe”), a key figure in Women4Europe, the leader of the Release the Russia Report demonstrations in Westminster, and one of the founders of savedemocracy.uk, she typifies the many passionate, committed and creative campaigners on the frontline of the battle to maintain the rule of law in the UK.
When we meet (on the inevitable Zoom call rather than face-to-face), she tells me how she came to enter the law, and it is evident how important her choice of career and her experiences as a trainee barrister were to the development of her ideals.
She describes a world which, at the time she entered the profession, was often deeply sexist and classist. She was told at one point that if she dropped her Northern accent she might get somewhere, (to which she responded “You know something? I’m going to have MORE of an accent now”) and shares a series of anecdotes about the abuse that she and other women lawyers suffered early in their careers. Although she describes herself as retiring, even then she was obviously gutsy and brave enough to challenge the behaviour and to defend her values.
A transformative moment was her very first experience of appearing in front of a judge, representing a client at an Employment Appeals Tribunal. She laughs as she describes being physically sick with terror in the toilets ahead of the hearing. But “then when I was there and on my feet, suddenly it was seamless, it felt completely natural”. Naturally a shy person, Robinson realised that when she was speaking on others’ behalf “I had found my voice – I had the courage to have a voice because other people needed me”.
Robinson was not initially an admirer of the European Union – rather the contrary. Researching her MA thesis on European Law, she started from the viewpoint that the EU had too much control and was an undemocratic institution – “but then came to realise I was wrong”. Her study of the Good Friday Agreement as part of her research was what later led her to spot the potential threat to peace in Northern Ireland from Brexit. “That really concerned me because that risked lives, and we have a responsibility not to harm other people”.
Robinson is deeply troubled by the latest threat to peace in Northern Ireland from the Internal Market Bill and she labels those politicians who are “even thinking about legislation that could breach the GFA” as “immature”. She seems genuinely puzzled about their motivation, “I don’t know where they’ve been trained or what they have learned in life …” And with that one withering comment the current Cabinet is dismissed.
Robinson is driven by the conviction inherited from her mother that “whatever happens you have to do the right thing”. She has a deep concern for the rule of law and the health of Parliamentary democracy, a concern which saw her leading a protest about the withholding of the Russia Report outside the gates of Downing Street in the winter of 2019. Undaunted by threats on social media she has continued to expose foreign interference in UK politics. “If money coming from Russian donors is influencing how the UK operates and conducts itself that’s a significant problem. So no, I won’t let the issue drop”.
The website that she has co-founded, savedemocracy.uk, has as its objective the restoration of normal democratic government to the UK. It is quite explicitly non-party political, and aims to empower concerned citizens in the fight against corruption and to provide them with the tools to lobby their MPs and government. Ever optimistic, Robinson believes in the power of the collective to persuade governments to change course on key issues, and to fight the decay in our democracy. She believes passionately in the right of every citizen to have their voice heard by the rich and the powerful. Prediction? Her own voice is likely to be heard much more widely in the future.