Who needs a hug? Well, apparently the British do.

Next June, a referendum is planned in Britain to decide whether the country should stay in the European Union, or exit the EU — what people are calling the "Brexit."

British voters will decide. But some 2 million citizens of other EU countries who live in the UK can't do anything about it.

Except hug.

A group called "Please don't go UK" is encouraging foreigners in Britain to put their arms around the nearest local and then post the picture on Instagram with #hugabrit.

“I think the idea is just, overall, to show that this is about people,” says Christine Ullmann, a German who lives and works in London. “A lot about the EU is about faceless institutions. People are angry about issues. But ultimately, the ones that profit from the EU and the ones who have the most to lose are individuals.”

Christine Ullmann of Germany hugs British musician Jarvis Cocker for the social media campaign, #hugabrit. 

Please don't go uk

But will Brits accept a hug? They are famously averse to being touched. They will wait for another train rather than cram inside one. They cherish personal space.

“When you raise the issue you get really embarrassing responses, ‘Oh, really? You hug?’” she says. “But then we explain to them. We don’t go up to random strangers and squeeze them from behind and run away. It’s voluntary. We express our love and if you want to love us back, go for it.”

Ullmann has hugged three Brits so far and found one thing in common: “They love being hugged."

Those three might, but not all do. Ullmann has tried to hug her boss, “But he goes bright-red every time.” 

One guy who didn’t go red was the musician Jarvis Cocker. Ullmann got to give him a squeeze, and post the image on her group's site. Cocker told her that staying in the EU is especially important for musicians. 

"I spend a lot of time in France. The EU is part of my everyday life," he says. "It is so easy for me to travel back and forth for a gig in London. I am completely against leaving [the EU]."

Other famous folks in England have joined in to offer up a hug: Femi Taylor, the British actress who played Oola in "Return of the Jedi," hugged Claus Skytte Kamper, a Danish man, saying, "Make love, not borders!"

British actress Femi Taylor hugs her Danish friend Claus Skytte Kamper for the social media campaign, #hugabrit, to keep Britain in the European Union.


For Ullmann, on a personal level, an exit from the EU would be a huge signal that Britain doesn’t want to be part of a bigger whole, a rejection of its “European-ness.” She says it would be a real moment of sadness.

That’s why she’s trying to prevent it from happening. She really believes her campaign can work, judging from the reaction on social media.

“We’ve had such amazing feedback and positivity from people who said this is just what we needed through all the nastiness in the campaign," she says. "We need someone to say, ‘Hey, let’s be positive and let’s highlight the things we love rather than the bad things. So I think that there’s a lot of goodwill. All it took was a lightning rod to come through.”

From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI