There comes a time when you absolutely feel that you have to do something. That happened for Martin and myself when we heard that on Saturday 23 March 2019 there would be a Put it to the People March for a public vote on the government’s proposed EU withdrawal bill. So we booked a hotel and drove down to London on the Friday afternoon.
Go here for photos.
We stayed by the M25 and then left the car on Saturday at the nearest tube station High Barnet. The Central Line train from Tottenham Court Road was very full and huge crowds got off at Marble Arch, some, like me, carrying placards or draped in EU flags.
We were early, at least we thought we were, so we went to a nearby Patisserie Valerie for coffee. A couple of a similar age to us at the next table jokingly accused us of being wimps – they had come on a coach from Durham leaving at 5am. There was a very long and friendly queue for the loo. Everybody was talking about where they had come from.
We had intended to join the Yorkshire for Europe group who were meeting outside the Grosvenor House hotel or the LibDems meeting outside the Dorchester at noon but there was no way we were going to get to them. Park Lane was already full.
The police opened up the area of grass between the two carriageways and we managed to make a bit of progress on that but came to a halt again for a long time.
There were some impromptu speeches much further down Park Lane. We couldn’t hear but joined the cheers. We sat on the barrier next to some friendly policemen and ate our lunch.
The front of the march left about 1pm. Eventually we shuffled forward down Park Lane and reached Piccadilly just about when the main speeches were starting in Parliament Square at 2.45pm.
There was a great sense of camaderie and plenty of laughs at some of the placards, but there was also a great sense of steely determination to stop this impending disaster. Like us many people were angry and upset that our country is being subjected to a right-wing coup run by wealthy disaster capitalists.
There were people of all ages, but plenty of the same generation as ourselves, putting paid to the story that all older people are Leave supporters.
There were children, too, carrying placards pleading for their future. A baby in a pram was labelled “Erasmus baby”- his parents must have met when they were benefitting from the EU scheme for exchange and study abroad.
Plenty of people were draped in EU flags or waving them, but the Yorkshire flag was out in force too. The placards showed the best of British humour. Most were a lot better than my own feeble effort, but then I had never made one before. We didn’t see the Guardian’s favourite “Fromage not Farage” but there was a limerick, a “900,000 here, 90 on Nigel’s march” and “a complete Mogg’s dinner”.
You can find the best ones we saw among our photos here.
Some placards highighted links with Putin, and demonized Trump as well as Theresa May. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were widely derided.
Scientists for EU, who I have followed for 3 years now, and NHS for EU were prominent on the march as workers in those fields really understand how damaging leaving the EU would be.
At the bottom of Park Lane, we caught up with a lady carrying a placard Ripon for Europe with a picture of sheep in the dales. Later when I looked at Twitter she was on the front row in a photo of the bus from Ripon which was posted by Lord Dick Newby the leader of the LibDems in the Lords who lives in Ripon.
It took ages for everyone to get round the corner and funnel into Piccadilly but then we were moving forward, a bit.
It was stop and start all the way from there. Every ten minutes or so somebody started a loud cheer and there was much waving of banners.
The phone signal was up and down. People kept checking the petition to revoke Article 50 which already had over 4 million signatures when the march started.
When we turned into St James, Piccadilly behind us was still full of people. Drummers from Notting Hill were trying to keep people moving.
Their conductor was walking backwards. I smiled at him and he rushed over to me while his companion took a photo of us together. I suppose I might be on his Facebook page somewhere.
A bagpiper playing the EU anthem “Ode to Joy” almost brought tears to my eyes.
When we were nearing Trafalgar Square we saw the first big screen, but not an official one from the march, but a mobile one from the wonderful Led by Donkeys – you can find them on Facebook and Twitter. It was cycling through some of the most mendacious statements of the Brexiteers. The blank one of Jeremy Corbyn drew plenty of laughs and a chorus of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?”
The first of the march’s own big screens in Trafalgar Square simply said “People’s Vote Thank you for coming and have a safe journey home”. It was 5pm when we got there and the main speeches had long since finished.
In Whitehall there was a sizeable crowd making uncomplimentary noises outside Downing Street where the gates were firmly closed.
After over 5 hours, we reached Parliament Square about 5.20pm when the staging for the speeches was already being dismantled. There were many people still behind us.
The march was entirely peaceful, with no riots and no arrests. The gammon Leavers, who said online that they would disrupt it, knew they would be outnumbered and stayed away.
So we missed the main speeches. Tom Watson had already said that he was going to say that he would support a confirmatory referendum on the withdrawal agreement. I read that 86-year old Michael Heseltine had reduced some people to tears when he said
We can debate the motives and obligations of those in public life. What cannot be in doubt is our responsibility to our young generations to pass on to them a country richer, more powerful, safer than that we ourselves inherited. Our partnership with Europe is that destiny.
Walk tall. Keep the faith. Go back to your villages, your towns and your cities. Tell them you were here. Here, In parliament square. Outside the buildings that inspire parliamentary democracy. Fighting for our tomorrow. In peace. Secure. The bitterness and bloodshed of Europe’s past buried with its history.
We stayed in central London for dinner. Later in the evening a Danish family who were visiting London approached us while we were waiting for a bus. They had seen that I was still wearing my “Bollocks to Brexit” sticker. They had been following the Brexit saga, but couldn’t understand why the UK had voted to leave the EU and wanted more information. Their teenage son knew more about the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement than most British people do.
The BBC has abandoned all sense of impartiality over Brexit. As expected, it played down the significance of the march, trying to balance the million people on it with the hundred or so on Farage’s Brexit march.
The only arguments left for leaving were still being touted by Liam Fox on the Today Programme this morning (Monday): that (1) people voted to Leave and (2) that the 2017 election manifestos for both major parties supported Brexit. But it was a narrow majority almost three years go. Time has moved on. People can change their minds. The Conservatives lost their majority in 2017. No party won the election.
Many of the placards drew attention to the lies that were told in 2016. People have seen through this now. They know that that the aim of the wealthy Brexiteers is to get rid of all the EU regulations which protect people and the environment. They know now that Brexit is all because of a civil war in the Tory Party, that Leave broke the law and that money from dubious sources was used to fund their campaign.
The Brexiteers want the UK to be out of the customs union so that they can seal the trade deal that Trump says will be so great (only for the US of course), that is to sell out UK business and healthcare to the US. There are reports that American big pharma thinks our drugs are too cheap and that it wants to charge the NHS five times what it now pays for drugs.
Ordinary people just want this awful divisiveness to end, and their country to return to normality and prosperity. They want a strong government which cares for its people. They do not want to see what we saw in London on this our first time walking about in Central London for years, that is homeless people sleeping in doorways and people begging for money on the streets and on the tube. The large balloon shaped like a banana with “Banana republic” written on it encapsulated where the UK is headed if Brexit is not stopped.
My MP, none other than the Chief Whip Julian Smith, assured me at the end of January that “it is not the Government’s strategy to run down the clock until 29 March”. Can you believe anything that these people say?
The petition to revoke Article 50 has reached over 5,500,000 signatures as I finish this early on Monday afternoon. It was started by a 76-year old lady. She has received death threats. Is this really the country that you and I want to live in?