People’s Vote demonstration in London culminates with speeches in Parliament Square
A roar of pro-European chants rose up above Pall Mall and across the royal parks as tens of thousands attended an anti-Brexit march marking the second anniversary of the EU referendum.
Some marched on Saturday in the hope of stopping Brexit, some just wanted to alter the “mood music” to help change the direction of government travel, but young and old, Labour and Tory, they were all united in their pro-European passion.
Police on foot, in riot vans in the backstreets and in helicopters were on standby in case of a clash between the People’s Vote march and a pro-Brexit march starting less than two miles away at Victoria station, which was due to end a few hundred metres away at the other end of the Palace of Westminster.
Nicolas Maclean, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, marched with a group of about a dozen men and woman brandishing large “Tories against Brexit” placards in the People’s Vote march.
“She would be turning in her grave,” he said. “She said one of her greatest achievements in Europe was Britain taking the lead in setting up the single market and now some people in government want us to leave. It is an absolute disaster.”
An estimated 100,000 have so far taken part in the People’s Vote march, which culminated in a rally at Parliament Square, with speeches from politicians David Lammy, Anna Soubry and Vince Cable.
Stuart Thomson, 50, from Worcestershire, was with a group of veterans standing close to the Crimean war memorial on Pall Mall. He called Brexit “the most cowardly thing this country has ever done”.
“What we are trying to do is stop the understanding that veterans are all patriots for Brexit – that’s not the case. We are patriots and we are for the European Union,” said Thomson, who is co-founder of Veterans for Europe.
“We don’t like the way European citizens have been treated; a lot of service men are married to European citizens who are being forced to leave.
“A colleague of mine served in the RAF, married an Italian lady and moved to the West Midlands with his wife. They had three children and she was one of the first people to receive a letter from the Home Office telling her to prepare to leave.”
Nearby stood Sophie Atherton, 15, from Essex, who was with her parents on her first demonstration. “I’m here today not only to show my support for the rest of Europe but also because I feel like my future has been ripped away from me,” she said.
“I want to be able to work in Europe freely; I want European people to have the freedom to work here. I feel that young people’s future has been ripped away from them and I didn’t even have the chance to vote for that.”
Graham Bailey, 28, from Swindon, said: “Europe is a good idea because it puts everyone on the same team so we don’t fight any more. There’s been over 65 years of peace between members states and that’s worth defending.”
At the rally, the politicians, public figures and activists who led it gathered on stage. “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” the crowd began chanting, pointing to the absence of the Labour leader.
Ed de Mesquita, another Tory remainer, said he could hardly read the Telegraph any more because it was so doggedly supporting a hard Brexit.
He said: “Very often I find it difficult to get through an article. Even when Airbus says it’s threatening to close down some of its operations, they say you are moaning. This is the phony war. It hasn’t happened. We haven’t left the EU yet. When it gets close the City, many manufacturers are going to leave.
“It’s not going to be OK. I tell you what is the worst thing, it’s the legacy we are going to leave the young people.”
Next to him was Neil Carmichael, a former Conservative party MP for Stroud. “I think we need a rethink about the direction of travel about Brexit. We’ve seen from Airbus and BMW and many other countries that the risks are absolutely huge if we don’t go to a reconsideration stage,” he said.
As a samba band drummed its way through Pall Mall and on through Trafalgar Square where an Eid celebration was taking place, people from all over the country and from Europe hoped to drive home their message.
Oli Aizcorbe, 10, from London said: “I think Brexit sucks.” His 11-year-old friend Stevie Robinson said she feared for her future. “Because it has such an impact on young people’s future, I don’t think Cameron should have just put it to the public like he did. I am very angry about it,” she said.
Hazel Bergiel, a Briton who lives in France, had come from her home in Chevreuse to take part. “I’ve lived in France for the last 35 years and I wouldn’t have voted to leave but I was denied a vote,” she said. “I’m very much anti-Brexit, but I’m still very much British. I only have one passport even though I live there and this is why I’m here, really – to support the movement.”
The division Brexit was creating was personal for some people in attendance. Grazia Valentino, who lives in Paris and is also British, said the loss of free movement would place a barrier in her marriage.
“My husband lives here and I live in Paris. We’re on the Eurostar regularly and we’ve been doing that for 20 years,” she said. “I’ve really claimed my full freedom of movement rights and I’m going to be separated from my family who live in Italy and my husband in the UK.
Chris Berry, wearing a “British husband” EU-blue T-shirt, stood with his partner, Maria, wearing a “Slovak wife” matching T-shirt, as they held aloft a collage of pro-Brexit newspaper mastheads with the headline “enemies of the people”.
Berry, from Worcestershire, was angry that his future was in limbo simply because he fell in love with a woman from the continent. “Even with the settled status details published the other day, we’re still not certain what is going to happen,” he said.
His wife said: “We are in a constant state of uncertainty and although it is probably going to be all right, we don’t know for sure. Our mortgage is up for renewal shortly and I could be deemed a risky customer.”
Janet and James Sheerin from Newcastle upon Tyne been campaigning for the last two years. “We are here to support people getting a final vote. If there is no deal it makes it even more important. People never agreed to have a disaster,” said Mr Sheerin.
“As a former investment banker and CEO, there is nothing worse than going into negotiations without a backstop you don’t have. We don’t have the components in place and the government keeps fighting to maintain a line that doesn’t exist.”
Dominic Robinson said it was more important than ever that the UK stayed close to Europe. “It is hard to imagine European countries wanting to fall out and go to war, but with the rise of rightwing governments there is some prospect of that in 20 or 30 years’ time if we fragment Europe more.”
The pro-Brexit march attracted a wide range of groups, from Ukip supporters to the “alt-right” White Pendragons and Generation Identity.
The mood among the pro-Brexit marchers was one of anger and defiance as far-right groups such as The White Pendragons and For Britain took their place alongside Veterans’ and People’s Party and Ukip with the sound of God Save the Queen and “Free Tommy” booming through the streets.
But many melted away as a long succession of speakers took to the platform with just a few thousand supporters left at the rally two hours later.
The Ukip leader Gerard Batten urged people to join the party and fight against what he saw as an imminent loss for Brexit supporters. “There is a real danger we will leave in name only,” he said. “MPs don’t care how many people go on this march, it doesn’t affect them … the only thing that affects them is losing their seats.”
Speaker after speaker followed decrying the anti-Brexit MPs and the BBC.
Anne Marie Waters, the leader of the far-right For Britain, said she was appalled that the business secretary Greg Clark was proposing to keep the borders open to keep business leaders happy. “The company’s voice is not louder than ours,” she said referring to the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit. “Companies, they can adjust,” she added.
Waters said the BBC had “taken great pleasure” at reporting the Airbus threat to leave the country because of Brexit. “It is not because of Brexit but because of the incompetence of the government, which two years later can’t tell companies what sort of Brexit they want.”
Andrew Peck, a pro-Brexit and White Pendragon supporter, came from Nottingham. He described himself as a floating voter who had supported Ukip in the last elections but otherwise “whichever party was best for the NHS”. “I don’t want anything to do with the EU, it’s nice to see lots of people like me here,” he said.
Craig Lennon, 21, came from Glasgow, lured by the “Free Tommy” campaign and Clive McElhinney from Tunbridge Wells was in London to make sure the government “enforced what we voted for two years ago”. He said: “The only way you can get your voice heard is on this march.”
Julian Farrer, brandishing an “EU got to go Corbyn the Commy” placard, had come all the way from Florida. He is half-British, his father was pro-EU, but he and his brother thought the EU was bad for Britain.