Remembering Paul Willner

Paul Willner died suddenly this week, not long after moving to our area from Wales.

The following fitting tribute from Swansea for Europe and Wales for Europe is repeated here with permission.

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. Whilst 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 utilise 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.

He 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 European Movement. Paul 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

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 wider european movement, and in particular by his friends in Swansea. We send our sincere condolences to his wife, Heather, his children and to his grandchildren.

Paul’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. 

Oxford for Europe’s Colin Gordon writes:

I got to know Paul via Grassroots for Europe around the time he moved from Swansea, where he had spent his university career and continued to play a tremendously respected role in the pro-European movement, to Oxford, to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He and I worked together on campaign events, and reviewed each other’s writing. In recent months we used to meet for working coffee in the Weston Library. We were working on another event only days before he died. He was a teacher, researcher and clinician – he brought all those talents to campaigning. He did research with Richard Bentall on attitudes to freedom of movement which may be having an important influence. He was interested in the practicalities of persuasion, what works and how we can learn to do it better. He was warm, kindly, and unassuming. He wore his expertise lightly. He was an impatient and hopeful Rejoiner and a restive Labour activist. His parents were Austrian Jews who escaped with difficulty to Britain before WW2. Paul understood viscerally what freedom of movement means and what the EU means as a peace project, and turned understanding into tireless and influential action. We are already missing him.

Here is a link to an article in the Spanish publication El Pais which gives an insight into Paul’s fascinating back story. Here is a translation.

You can read Paul’s last published article here:

PS 28 October 2023: here is Colin Gordon’s full tribute in Yorkshire bylines