It is with shock and sadness that we are sharing the news of the sudden passing of our friend and comrade Paul Willner, who left us on Thursday 19 October.
Paul was a driving force in the pro-European movement in Wales and beyond. He was absolutely determined that we should not take the 2016 referendum result lying down and was instrumental in shaping the Welsh national and political campaign response that followed. While others were unsure of the way forward, Paul’s conviction was total.
Paul was the founder of Swansea For Europe, one of Wales’s first and most active pro-European local groups, which he chaired from 2017 to 2020. As Chair, he combined a clear-sighted vision of what needed to be done to influence potential supporters, civic leaders, and politicians with the ability to use the many talents of local activists to build a dynamic campaigning group.
His friends in Swansea For Europe have fond memories of energetic street campaigning, marches, inspiring speaker events, and lively debates – notably with Tim Martin in the Wetherspoon’s pub on Swansea’s Wind Street.
Paul was rarely discouraged, and remained a committed and energetic activist after the 2019 General Election and the UK’s official departure from the European Union in 2020. He played a key role in shaping Wales For Europe as a long-term campaigning organisation and remained one of our Directors. He was tireless in his efforts to ensure Wales was plugged into the wider movement across the UK and contributed to organisations including Grassroots For Europe and the European Movement.
He also brought his expertise as a Professor of psychology to his activism, exploring the impact of campaigning approaches on attitudes and behaviour. He was a regular contributor to the Bylines Network, especially Bylines Cymru and Yorkshire Bylines.
Paul was a passionate Labour member and campaigned hard to influence the party’s position on the referendum result and in favour of a People’s Vote. More recently, he established Welsh Labour For Europe, determined to shift the party to an overt position of support for the UK’s return to the European Union.
He was a man of determination, energy, and vision. He was fiercely articulate with a sharp intelligence. He combined strategic and tactical insight with a willingness to get things done.
Paul will be deeply missed by all of us who are part of the Wales For Europe movement, and in particular by his friends in Swansea. We send our sincere condolences to his wife Heather, his children Matthew and Jessica, and to his grandchildren Raphael, Jack, Joshua, and Theo.
Paul Willner’s belief in European solidarity and cooperation was deep and unfailing. He leaves a huge gap in our movement, but his determination to keep campaigning and to keep fighting for our place in Europe will remain an inspiration to all of us.