Picture: BEN JENNINGS
Show Hide image

The plot to stop Brexit

How Remainers of all parties are planning to keep the UK in the EU – and why they believe they will win. 

On the evening of 5 December, among the five-star splendour of London’s Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel, 300 of Britain’s most senior EU supporters will assemble for the “Exit from Brexit Dinner”. For the price of £200 (£2,000 for a table of ten), guests will hear from speakers including the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna and the former Conservative minister Anna Soubry. The dinner will conclude at 11pm – the hour at which Britain is due to leave the European Union 479 days later.

In the months following the June 2016 referendum, Brexit was regarded as near-inevitable. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn – both “reluctant Remainers” – immediately accepted the Leave vote. On 1 February this year, MPs voted by 498 to 114 to grant May the power to trigger Article 50. Two months later, the Prime Minister formally initiated Britain’s EU departure. She was never so powerful again.

At the general election in June, the Conservatives lost their hard-won parliamentary majority. Rather than strengthening her hand in the Brexit negotiations, May had weakened it. Five months after the talks began, the EU has yet to open discussions on a new UK trade deal. May has been forced to concede that there will be a two-year “transition period” from 29 March 2019, the date set for the UK to leave the EU, during which little will change. But in Europe, as well as in Britain, there is an increasing belief that the UK may not, in the end, leave.

After the shock of the referendum result, Remain MPs have regrouped. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations, founded by Umunna in July and co-chaired by Soubry, is the main vehicle for their activities. Amendments to the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill have been meticulously co-ordinated to ensure maximum impact (the MPs use a WhatsApp group and often meet in Umunna’s office).

Remainers boast the media savvy of Umunna, the lawyerly expertise of Dominic Grieve (a former attorney general), the economic nous of Nicky Morgan (the Treasury select committee chair) and the rhetorical firepower of Soubry. Though most state that they are merely opposed to “hard Brexit” (defined as UK withdrawal from the EU single market and the customs union), they are alive to the possibility of halting Brexit altogether.

Beyond Westminster, some of Britain’s most senior politicians have opened back channels to Brussels. On 30 October, to the consternation of Brexiteers, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, met Nick Clegg, the former Labour cabinet minister Andrew Adonis and the veteran Tory backbencher Ken Clarke. During their Brussels meeting, Clegg impressed upon Barnier how “extraordinarily fragile and febrile” British politics was. Barnier, who had met with Jeremy Corbyn for 80 minutes earlier in the month, is mindful that the Conservative government could collapse. Out of chaos, the EU hopes, order may yet emerge. “What was clear from my meetings in Brussels is that they desperately want us to stay,” Adonis told me. “I didn’t meet a single person who thought that the EU would be better off without us.”

***

If Remainers have refused to accept the referendum result, it is partly because they know that their opponents would have done the same in different circumstances. Back in 2016, Nigel Farage warned that a 52-48 Remain victory (the margin by which Leave won) would be “unfinished business by a long way”. EU supporters cite the words of Brexit Secretary David Davis in 2012: “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”

The vote for Brexit was a disruptive moment for the British parliament: the first time that a national referendum had rejected the status quo. Remainers, however, refuse to treat the result as sacrosanct. “The 23 June 2016 [vote] was not an Old Testament chiselled in stone, which has cast an immutable spell on the United Kingdom,” Clegg told me, “because the facts have changed so dramatically since.”

The post-referendum recession forecast by the Treasury has been avoided, yet the UK is no longer the fastest-growing G7 economy but the slowest. EU trade talks, which Liam Fox promised would be “the easiest in human history”, have yet to begin. And Leavers have disavowed the promise of an extra £350m a week for the NHS. “Would we have won without £350m/NHS?” Dominic Cummings, the Vote Leave campaign director, asked. “All our research and the close result strongly suggests no.”

For others, the greatest risk is that the UK will be permanently marginalised as a world power. Michael Heseltine, the 84-year-old former deputy prime minister and Conservative peer, fulminated against this prospect when I met him at his London offices. “I simply can’t contemplate with equanimity the idea of the president of the United States, the prime minister of India, the president of China, flying into Berlin, Paris, to discuss major international events hosted by the European Union, with Britain waiting to be told what the communiqué says. It is about influence and power and top tables. In the Britain in which I was brought up, the essential feature of self-interest was that we should be where the decisions were taken.”

Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner from 2004 to 2008, is concerned that after Brexit Britain would become “a satellite of the US economy”. “To compete with the EU, we will be led inexorably down the path of a less-taxed, less-regulated business environment,” he told me. “The economy may be more globalised, in reality more American, but the public will become less protected. And that’s been the project of the Brexiteers from the outset.”

Remainers argue that Brexit need not prove disastrous to be rejected. That Leavers have failed to keep their lavish promises is sufficient. Umunna, a former shadow business secretary, drew a vivid analogy when we met in his Commons office. “You thought you were sitting in some shiny new Audi but it’s actually some clapped-out banger. It might get you from A to B but it’s not moving in the way you thought it would. Do you really want to buy this car?”

***

The public is showing some signs of remorse. A recent YouGov poll found that a record number of voters (47 per cent) believed that the UK had been wrong to vote to leave the EU, compared to 42 per cent who believed that it had been right. But it does not follow that a near-majority of the public wants Brexit stopped. When offered a menu of options, 40 per cent backed the government’s current stance, while 12 per cent preferred a “softer” Brexit. Only 18 per cent supported a second referendum and just 14 per cent wanted Brexit stopped. Like British holidaymakers stuck in a poor hotel or on a rainy beach, voters appear resigned to making the best of it.

Most MPs take a similar view. Though only ten Labour backbenchers and 138 Conservatives publicly supported Leave, a majority of MPs in both parties now profess to favour Brexit. To reject the referendum result, they fear, would only deepen voters’ mistrust of Westminster. The Labour MP Caroline Flint, who voted Remain but whose Don Valley constituency backed Leave (as a majority of Labour seats did), told me: “What I often hear from both Leave and Remain voters is, ‘Stop the bickering and get on with it.’”

The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was pivotal in persuading Jeremy Corbyn to campaign for Remain, said: “To try to reverse Brexit through a second referendum is to do to the British people what Brussels did to the Irish with the Lisbon Treaty: keep repeating the question until they deliver ‘the right answer’.”

Picture: Ben Jennings

For some, a “soft Brexit” represents an elegant compromise. Under this scenario, the UK would leave the EU’s political institutions but remain in the single market and the customs union. Soft Brexiteers believe that this would minimise economic disruption, resolve the Irish border dilemma and respect the referendum result. However, Leavers and some Remainers warn that this would deny the UK adequate control of free movement of EU workers into the country. “The easy supply of labour has let some employers off the hook,” Flint said. “It’s allowed the debate about the workforce Britain needs to be undeveloped.”

Europhiles similarly regard soft Brexit as a feeble third way. “It’s fax diplomacy: you get told what the deal is,” said Heseltine. “This was the dilemma that Margaret Thatcher faced, and nobody would call her a Europhile. But she was a British prime minister and the idea that the rules would be created by the French and the Germans, largely to suit their own economic self-interest, was wholly unacceptable to her, and she was quite right. There’s no compromise: you’re either in or you’re out.”

***

Remainers do not disguise their predicament. They know they are up against an overwhelmingly pro-Brexit Conservative Party, a Labour Party led by the lifelong Eurosceptic Corbyn, and a stubborn public. But in view of the political volatility of recent years, they are not resigned to defeat. “The first hurdle we have to overcome is the misperception that Article 50 is an inevitable process. It’s not,” Umunna said.

In a speech delivered on 10 November, John Kerr, a former Foreign Office diplomat and the author of Article 50, emphasised: “Mrs May’s letter was only a notification of the UK’s ‘intention’ to withdraw. Intentions can change. We still have all the rights of a member state, including the right to change our minds and our votes, as member states frequently do, for example, after elections. The article is about voluntary withdrawal, not about expulsion.”

European leaders have made as much clear. At a joint press conference with May in June, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said: “The door, of course, is still open as long as Brexit negotiations have not been concluded.” (The EU has said negotiations must conclude by autumn 2018, several months ahead of the official leaving date.) Last month, the European Council president, Donald Tusk, told MEPs: “It is in fact up to London how this will end, with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit.”

But May and Corbyn, for different reasons, remain committed to EU withdrawal. The Prime Minister has more to fear from her party’s hard Brexiteers than she does from the small band of Tory parliamentary Remainers. Had May pushed against “hard Brexit” after the 2017 general election debacle, she would have been removed as leader.

Corbyn, who has voted against every significant piece of EU legislation since entering parliament in 1983, has no political or ideological attachment to the European project. Indeed, he has often spoken of the single market as an obstacle to building socialism in Britain. Corbyn’s Euroscepticism is shared by his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, the shadow cabinet office minister, Jon Trickett (who is leading Labour’s preparations for government), his communications director, Seumas Milne, and his policy director, Andrew Fisher, the author of the well-received election manifesto.

In the view of Corbyn’s inner circle, opposing Brexit would undermine the leader’s political project. As a senior ally told me: “Our essential analysis is that the political and economic elite has failed the country, and it’s led to this insurgent feeling and a cynicism about the British establishment, which has done a lot of damage to the Labour Party brand in the past. Because of that, it’s very difficult for us to look as though we’re prepared to say we know better than the electorate on a decision like Brexit.”

The most pro-European politician in Labour’s senior ranks is the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, who is a passionate defender of free movement. “Diane could be an unlikely ally,” a senior Labour source told me. “She’s the most influential person in the shadow cabinet who thinks this thing should be stopped. Privately, it’s very clear that’s her position.” (Abbott said in response: “My view is that we have to respect the referendum result.”)

Barnier was impressed by Corbyn at their October meeting, as were other senior Eurocrats. Adonis said: “What everybody told me is that they had very good meetings with Jeremy. They said he had been very on the ball and came across as being in favour, broadly, of staying in the single market and the customs union. I’ve had that both from people in the European Commission and in the parliament. They liked him. He came across very positively.”

The prospect of a Corbyn Labour government, however, has deterred some Conservatives from rebelling. As Umunna noted: “Continually talking up the possibility of an early election being precipitated by Brexit bottlenecks in the House of Commons reduces the likelihood of Tory MPs supporting amendments to Brexit legislation.”

Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is frustrated at the refusal of anti-Brexit Tories to go public. “There are a lot of Tories who we know are deeply unhappy about what is happening, including members of the government,” he told me. “But they’re not pushing their heads above the parapet.”

If Brexit is to be stopped, this must change. Cable’s hope and expectation are that where the public leads, MPs may follow. “The negotiations haven’t really started,” he said. “We can’t judge how the public will view the outcome, particularly if they’re faced with a breakdown and the massive dislocation that would come from a collapse in our relationship… I expect the public mood would shift quite dramatically.”

Those in the Commons who wish to stop Brexit are focused on securing a “meaningful vote” on any final deal (which the government consistently denies them). Rather than accepting a “no deal” outcome, they would be empowered to send ministers back to the EU negotiating table. Labour has vowed to vote against the government’s final Brexit deal unless it delivers the “exact same benefits” as the UK’s current membership (a threat that partly prompted May’s fateful election). The possibility that parliament could thwart or delay Brexit explains the magnetic appeal of “no deal” to some Tories. Though the UK would face punitive tariffs, chaos at ports and even grounded air flights, it would at least be out of the EU.

“That would be a good deal messier because there is a reapplication process,” Cable said. In theory, as a new member state applying to join under Article 49, the UK would be obliged to join the euro and the borderless Schengen Area. “No one in practice is going to insist on that.” But Cable conceded, “It wouldn’t be the status quo ante. Some things would have to change” – the UK’s £4.8bn budget rebate being an obvious target.

The defining aim of Remainers is to ensure that this point is not reached. By rejecting the government’s deal in autumn 2018, MPs could stop Brexit. “Clearly there would be a national crisis,” said Clegg. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be difficult for Theresa May to survive.”

In these circumstances, May or a new Conservative prime minister could seek refuge in a second referendum. “It can only be stopped by the people,” Soubry told me. “It’s incredibly important this comes from the bottom up, if it comes at all, and absolutely not from the top down.”

***

The two referendums on Europe – in 1975 and 2016 – were instigated by Harold Wilson and David Cameron, respectively, largely for the purposes of party management. In the event of a chaotic conclusion to negotiations or a rejection in parliament, a new prime minister may yet reach for what Jim Callaghan presciently described in 1970 as the “rubber life raft” of a referendum. Yet perhaps the greatest obstacle Remainers face is time. It took Brexiteers decades to achieve a majority in parliament for an In/Out referendum on EU membership. Their opponents must do the same in little more than a year.

What gives Remainers enduring hope, however, is the belief that the complexity and divisiveness of Brexit – the greatest challenge any government has faced since 1945 – will overwhelm May’s fractious and enfeebled government. Clegg said: “If you keep stamping your foot impetuously, as the Brexiteers do, saying, ‘It will be OK, it will be OK…’ eventually that will collapse under the weight of its contradictions.”

Mandelson put it more succinctly: “In the end, I think Brexit will defeat Brexit.” 

How Brexit could be stopped

The revocation of Article 50

Theresa May invoked Article 50 on 29 March 2017, triggering the UK’s two-year withdrawal from the EU. But the treaty’s author, the former Foreign Office diplomat John Kerr, has said that Britain is free at any moment to revoke its notice. “We still have all the rights of a member state, including the right to change our minds… The article is about voluntary withdrawal, not about expulsion.”

An extension in negotiations

Subject to the approval of the other 27 EU member states, the Brexit negotiations can be extended at any time. In the ensuing period, a new general election or a new referendum could be held.

An MPs’ vote

Remain MPs are focused on securing a “meaningful vote” on the government’s final deal (which the EU says needs to be reached by autumn 2018). This would empower them to send ministers back to the negotiating table, rather than merely accepting a “no deal” outcome.

A new general election or a second referendum

Were MPs to defeat the government, the crisis that would result could lead to a new referendum or another general election.

Since any Conservative leader would struggle to challenge Brexit and maintain MPs’ support, Remainers’ best hope is that Labour may change its position. Though Jeremy Corbyn is a long-standing Eurosceptic, the majority of party members support a second referendum. As of yet, the British public does not. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The plot to stop Brexit

Clive Turner/Maeve McClenaghan
Show Hide image

Inside the lives of the 78 people who died homeless this winter

Some died in doorways or in tents pitched in the snow. Others died in shelters or temporary accommodation.

In early March, the snow lay thick over the windows of Hamid Farahi’s car, obscuring the jumble of blankets, books and bags within. An entire life crammed into the passenger seat of a Peugeot 206.

Amongst the clutter was a prized possession – a letter from the office of Stephen Hawking. But 55-year-old Farahi no longer needed it.

Less than a mile down the road, Farahi had been checked into a hotel, the inclement weather forcing the homeless man out of the car where he was living and into a warm room for the night. It was there that he died. The cause of his death is still being investigated.

Farahi is one of 78 people the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found to have died while homeless this winter. This averages to more than two people a week, with at least ten people dying last month alone.

Despite many of these vulnerable people being known to the authorities, local journalists and charities are often the only ones that report these deaths.

The Bureau spoke to councils, hospitals, coroners offices, police forces and NGOs. Whilst there is a charitable network recording information on people sleeping rough in London, it found that there is no centralised record of when and how people die homeless in the UK. Therefore, its count is likely an underestimate.

And so today, the Bureau launched Dying Homeless, a long-term project to track and count those that die homeless on UK streets. 

It has already started to log some of the stories of those who have died homeless on UK streets. They include an avid gardener, a former soldier and a grieving 31-year-old who had lost both his mother and brother.

Some died in doorways or in tents pitched in the snow. Others died in shelters or passed away in hospitals after living on the streets. Many were rough sleepers, others were statutory homeless and staying in temporary accommodation.

The Bureau found that, since 1 October 2017, at least 59 men and 16 women have died – and in a further three cases the gender is not known due to lack of public information. The ages of those in our database so far range from 19- to 68-years-old. Fourteen deaths were of people 35-years-old or under.

The project has been welcomed by those working in the sector.

Petra Salva, St Mungo’s Director of Rough Sleeper Services said: “It’s a scandal that people are dying on our streets.

“St Mungo’s would welcome more nationally collated, robust statistics around rough sleeper deaths.”

Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain said: “To systematically record the number of deaths of rough sleepers in order to gauge the scale of the problem and investigate trends will be of enormous practical value.”

Farahi’s car now sits unclaimed, on a quiet side road behind the car park of a huge Tesco shopping complex in Harlow, Essex. Four weeks on from his death and, instead of snow, the windscreen is covered with floral tributes. There are 11 bunches of flowers in all, most now withered and brown.

“They all appeared over the past couple of weeks”, said Adam Protheroe. A local businessman, Protheroe had met Farahi the year before and had come to know him well. “I’m back and forth from Tesco all the time getting stuff for the wife and kids. I just came across him, said hello, he was a friendly enough guy,” he said.

Farahi once told Protheroe he had studied aeronautical engineering in Bristol. His Facebook page registers a stint working in avionics for British Airways.

Once, he even applied for a graduate research position with Stephen Hawking’s office at the University of Cambridge. The Bureau saw paperwork confirming his application. Farahi told Protheroe and others he had made it down to the last three applicants.

But then, things started to go wrong.

“Someone conned him out of money and he ended up selling his pension to shark companies, that is what he called them,” Protheroe explained. “Losing that money was the start of the alcoholism I think, it alleviated the stress.”

Iranian-born, Farahi was also reportedly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), from his time fighting for the army in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

People that knew Farahi years before told Channel 4 News he was not the easiest man to live with. He struggled with alcoholism for years and had to be removed from several properties. But many people in Harlow told the Bureau of their affection for him.

Chrissy Sorce works in a car rental hut, just five metres from Farahi ’s makeshift home. Her cigarette breaks would often bring her face to face with the homeless man. “At first I thought that’s a bit weird living there. He first arrived in the summer, and so I just started saying hello, ” she explained. Soon she was charging his phone for him or making him tea.

She told the Bureau that after gathering many books on advanced mathematics and engineering he had to enlist the help of a friend, who stored them in her daughter’s garden shed because they could no longer fit in his car.

“You know he’s a person like anyone else. Everyone’s vulnerable aren’t they,” she said. “He was a very intelligent man, he had all engineering books, maths books you know. He was just left here, I thought that was really wrong.”

The number of people sleeping rough has risen sharply across the UK, increasing 169 per cent in England since 2010, according to the government’s latest rough sleeper count. Experts warn cuts to mental health and substance abuse provision, coupled with rising private rents and a lack of social housing, are now forcing increasing numbers into homelessness.

However, there is no central database logging deaths of those who die when homeless. There no obligation on councils or coroners to log the deaths. Not all deaths make the news.

But that does not mean they go unnoticed. The Bureau found that for those working in the sector, news of premature deaths can be hard to shake.

Wayne Hood, from the charity Streets2Homes, knows two other people who died in Harlow this winter. The families do not want the names shared.

Hood knows only too well the dangers of sleeping rough. Now a paid outreach worker, he first arrived at the Streets2Homes shelter when he became homeless in 2015.

These days he splits his time between helping those who arrive at the day centre, tucked away in a small industrial estate on the edge of the town, and the time he is out walking the streets, looking for those that need help.

“I have these flyers printed”, Hood explained, pulling a handful of A4 sheets out of his rucksack. In big, bold letters they read: “Homeless you are not alone”. In the corner of a storeroom are bulging plastic bags tied tightly at the top, full of toiletries, bottles of water and other essentials. These are the packs Hood hands out on his round.

“Street homeless is becoming very visible here now. It has definitely increased,” he said. “We have 28 registered rough sleepers that we know of here in Harlow. It is probably more like double that in reality”, he added.

People bed down where they can. In a small square of grass outside the local St Paul’s church, eight tents huddle in varying states of disarray.

“When the weather was bad in March, we went out to places we thought people might be. A couple of occasions we opened up the centre here too, on Friday and Saturday night when it was really cold. It was a case of people bedding down here on the day room floor,” Hood explained.

At the same time, 70 miles away, Robert Wallis was settling in on the floor of an emergency shelter too.

Six days before Hamid Farahi died, as 'the beast from the East' cold snap pummelled the UK, Eileen Wallis, a homeless woman, woke up on the floor of the Catching Lives drop-in centre and found her 41-year-old son Robert, who was also homeless, dead beside her.

Eileen told journalist Gerry Warren of KentOnline: “I woke up and reached out for his hand but it felt really cold. I realised he was dead but tried to revive him.

“I knew he was ill, but this came completely out of the blue and I am devastated. I have no idea what my future holds now.”

The centre, a squat rectangular building housed just metres from Canterbury East station, had been turned into an emergency shelter as the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, a statutory requirement on councils to house homeless people in severe weather, prompted charities within the sector to open their doors.

“When the temperature is forecast zero [degrees Celsius] or less for three nights or severe wind, rain or snow, the council contact us and we open our day centre”, explained Graeme Solly, a Project Leader with Catching Lives day centre. “We had 47 nights of that this winter.”

The tables which usually line the hall were pushed to the side, the snooker and ping-pong tables moved back to make room for 15 people bedding down on mats on the floor. The centre was at capacity most nights.

"We are seeing a large number of rough sleepers, sofa surfers, and people who are vulnerably housed coming to our centre to seek advice", said Solly. Footfall at the Catching Lives day centre doubled between 2013 to 2015 and has remained around this mark since, he added.

Official figures show that, across the South of England, the numbers of rough sleepers has increased by 194 per cent since 2010, higher even than the national average.

Cuts to council budgets have had an impact on the care homeless people can access, said Solly.

With fewer options for referral to other services, staff at Catching Lives are left trying to support people as best they can.

Staff in the centre are still shaken by Robert Wallis’s death. Responding at the time, the centre’s general manager, Terry Gore, told Kent Online: “Every year we lose a number of clients, but we’ve never had anyone die inside the building before. It’s very sad for our staff, clients and volunteers.”

But Robert was not the only person to die while homeless in Canterbury this year. Less than three weeks later, the city saw another death.

Out on the streets of Canterbury, Sonya Langridge walks with a purpose, her years working for the navy evident in her powerful stride and eagerness to keep time.

“It was incredibly difficult this winter,” she told the Bureau. “I normally go out to start my round around 6am but there were some nights I’d find myself lying awake worrying about people, so I’d just get up earlier and check they were okay.”

Sonya is an outreach worker with Porchlight, a homelessness charity which works across the entirety of Kent. “People will sleep anywhere that is safe, if they are sleeping in the town centre it is for safety reasons, where they know cameras are, they know they have someone watching over them, or equally you get the people that go out in the woods by the rivers, tuck themselves away there where they feel they are not on show, they feel safe when no one knows where they are- those are the worrying ones, those are the ones we want to keep our eye on for their own safety.”

One of the people on Sonya’s watch was Shelly Pollard, a 42-year-old woman who was well-known around the city.

Many nights Pollard would bed down in the dimly lit doorway of a record music shop, the grand city walls visible from where she sat. Women make up around 22 per cent of rough sleepers in Canterbury, according to Porchlight, higher than the national average of 14 per cent. Sleeping where there is light and CCTV can provide some form of security.

“She was here every morning. She was always just here in the corner in the sleeping bag, maybe with some cardboard, sometimes spare clothes, you’d just hear snoring,” shop worker Alex Furness told the Bureau. “You couldn’t really believe she’d died until you heard it from a couple of people.”

A short distance down the road, watched over by a bronze statue of poet Geoffrey Chaucer, candles and flowers lay in tribute to Pollard. By the time of publication, a GoFundMe page trying to raise money for her funeral had raised £1,360 of its £4,000 goal.

Sonya is still shaken by Pollard’s death. But there is no time for her to stop. She covers a huge patch and spends her days scouring the streets and woods around the city, checking in with those that are rough sleeping.

“Sonya is fantastic, she can get people to talk to her who would never open up to anyone else,” said Mike Barrett, Chief Executive of Porchlight. “She was keeping almost a daily watch on Pollard. Sadly now Pollard has passed away.

“Her death is an example of the end of a process that is not fit for purpose, which is destructive and immoral.”

Barrett can reel off a long list of things he thinks are causing the increase in homelessness in the area and across the country: cuts to mental health services, lack of regulations around private landlords, landlords refusing to take those on Universal Credit.

Those issues, he says, are compounded by funding cuts to homelessness services.

“The cuts have impacted to a point where some services have closed. Others are so diluted they can’t do what they were set up to do”, said Barrett.

“Years ago Porchlight had 28 outreach workers. In 2011 our budgets were cut by 75 per cent and we ended up with a team of four [outreach workers]. So the charity, our board decided to pump some of our own reserves into it and we’re still doing that. But we’ve only got a team of 11, ”said Barrett. “The whole funding environment has returned to what it was in the 80s,” he added.

The Homeless Reduction Act, which was brought in earlier this month, puts more responsibility on councils to prevent homelessness and provides some additional funds. But many in the sector told the Bureau they are worried it is not enough to counter the cuts that have already happened.

A recent survey of local authorities, by the homeless charity Crisis, found that 74 per cent warned that a roll-out of Universal Credit would significantly increase homelessness in their area. Nearly half also feared the lowering of the total benefit cap would significantly increase homelessness.

Farahi, Pollard and Robert died within weeks of each other. At least seven more people died while homeless in March too, according to the names compiled by the Bureau. The true figure is likely to be much higher.

Matt Downie, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Crisis, said: “The Bureau’s figures are a devastating reminder that rough sleeping is beyond dangerous – it’s deadly, and it’s claiming more and more lives each year.

“Those sleeping on our streets are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures, to violence and abuse, and fatal illnesses. They are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence, twice as likely to die from infections, and nine times more likely to commit suicide. What’s worse, we know these figures are likely to be an underestimate."

“It is extraordinary and unacceptable that nationally data on rough sleepers is so limited”, said Jeremy Swain of Thames Reach.

Thames Reach, along with other homeless charities, has now pledged support for the Bureau’s Dying Homeless project.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it totally by 2027.

Responding to the Bureau’s findings, a government spokesperson said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many. We are taking bold action and have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027.

“We are investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness and earlier this month the Homeless Reduction Act, the most ambitious legislation in this area in decades, came into force."

Farahi’s death is still being investigated by the coroner’s office. Around a week after he passed away his hero Stephen Hawking died. Hawking was buried with ceremony 17 days later, on 31 March. Farahi is yet to be buried. 

His car sits, stuffed with his belongings, the only remaining marker of his life.

This article first appeared in the 16 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The plot to stop Brexit