We went to the London anti-Brexit rally with angry young people in the pouring rain
Someone compared Farage to Voldemort
The anti-Brexit rally was cancelled on Facebook, but hundreds of brave and soggy remainers came out in force to show their undying support for the EU, and their hate for Farage, Boris and all things Brexit in the humid rain.
About as many cameras as people turned up to the anti-Brexit protest on a wet Tuesday evening, which coincided with a Stonewall remembrance rally, with speakers on Nelson’s Column blaring the chant: “EU, we love you” over and over and over again.
Set to start at 5pm, the crowd started relatively small as many were still at work. It eventually build to a much larger crowd. At the start, many people commented at just how many media cameras and journalist there were – with one person saying: “I bet 25 per cent of the people here are journalists.”
People were incredibly friendly – despite the size, anger and, at points deafening, volume of the crowd, many people brought their families. Young children played on the edges of the fountains, and sat on the base of the column. One sixteen-year old girl called Jane gave a speech to the entire assembled crowd about how she had been robbed of her vote, to massed roars.
Police Liaison officers told us there’d been no trouble: “Nothing like that, it’s been very relaxed.”
Despite the friendly atmosphere, there was a clear purpose through the rain – the crowd repeatedly chanted “EU, we love you”, “Brits don’t quit”, and “Boris, Boris, Boris, Out, Out, Out.” One mother with a young daughter had to reassure a stranger that her daughter had in fact heard the word ‘fuck’ before, just as one part of the crowd kicked off again with a version of “Fuck off Boris”.
Even if there was a purpose, the crowd was slightly detached from reality – the call for an immediate second referendum got the biggest cheer of the day – despite Lib Dem leader Tim Farron stressing the importance of respecting the vote just five minutes earlier at the foot of the column.
Others used it as an opportunity to plug their own political causes with some protestors there talking about the issue of sexual slavery and the Japanese military, some were asking for independence for London, and there were plenty of Stonewall gay rights activists too.
The crowd was a bizarre mix of people you would have thought wouldn’t normally spend their Tuesday evenings at a political protest. Professionals stopped in as they left work, young people climbed over the monument, older voters came out to show solidarity, families showed up with brollies, school children in their uniforms, and the usual hippie crowd – all to express their support for the EU.
Despite the now pouring rain, more and more people began to show up. Three female students drove round the square with an EU-themed van. With a pretty rubbish paint job, they tooted their horn and shouted pro-EU slogans through a loudspeaker, as other speakers began speeches at the base of Nelson’s Column.
We asked protesters and recent Nottingham graduates, Gabby and Edward, why they had come with their massive bedsheet. They said: “Because we feel like the Leave campaign is based on half truths and I feel like a lot of people didn’t know what they were voting for; it’s a fucking awful decision.”
Laura Engel, an English student at Sheffield University, told the Tab: “It’s genuinely unbelievable. A joke. The incompetence this country has shown is just staggering. People don’t have their political brains switched on, as a country we don’t think enough.”
Gerard, a thirty-something solicitor who was offering strangers space under his huge umbrella, said he felt that the referendum was based off lies and misinformation. He laughed at the suggestion of an independent London, saying: “It would be too difficult to implement”.
Another student, Julia Carey, told us: “On a wider level the referendum is a result of the government’s failure with the education system. Allowing a referendum on something so important should only be done if the public are properly informed – which as your average British voter, they were not. People simply don’t know enough, it’s an absolute mess”.
Many too young to place a vote were central to the rally, 16 year old student, John Gowers, told us that age is not an issue: “We’re not as naive as the government thinks and don’t see why we didn’t have the opportunity to place a vote, on reflection it may well have made a difference. I just feel let down by the nation.”
The crowd varied in ages and many protesters freely engaged in political debate with each other. One protester said: “This decision has been made by people with prejudices.” A central group of protesters led the chants and positioned themselves on the steps facing the crowd,
The speakers were varied, and each wanted to give their two cents and rally the crowd further. The MC was a garrulous 67-year-old Irishman, who segwayed between different speakers by getting the crowd to shout “EU, we love you” all over again, while reminding people that, despite their “right to be infuriated”, getting angry and calling Leave voters ignorant would only damage their cause. He injected a sense of positivity into the air, exclaiming: “Seeing your soaking wet hair is giving me real hope; we must look forward knowing we have two years to exercise our right to demand a fair, open, second referendum!”.
Tim Farron, normally a bit of a damp quib, spoke passionately from underneath a black umbrella. telling the crowd: “They [Leave voters] and we have been betrayed – we were told if we left the EU we’d have 350 million quid a week. We lost that in a matter of moments on the Stock Exchange for pity’s sake.
“I just got back from Brussels this afternoon, and I was there to tell people: ‘Do not believe what Farage tells you, do not believe what you read in the papers, the people of Britain are proud to be Europeans!’
“If you lose, you always have the grace to accept the defeat, but you never ever ever give up. We as a community must stand together, this is reversible. I am a Northerner, I am an Englishman, I’m a Britain, I’m a European, I’m a citizen of the world – I’m proud of all of those things, and none of them contradict the other. This is our Britain, and we will not let Farage steal it!”
The pro-EU, anti-Brexit speakers were soon joined by Stonewall and ACT UP campaigners, who asked the crowd, as politely as they could, that the gay campaigners had booked Trafalgar Square for their rally, so could they please give up some space for them. Despite this, the pro-EU protest was clearly the larger rally, and the gay rights speakers were interspersed with pro-EU speakers.
A third-generation Polish immigrant called Robert spoke about how his grandparents had escaped to Britain in the 1940s, as refugees. He asked the crowd to stand up against racist incidents, and to not let themselves become bystanders.
An EU lawyer, called Louis, spoke out about how despite his experience with the EU’s bureaucracy, he still backed it as a force for good in the world. “The Britain that the Leave camp has voted for is a fictitious Britain, one that has been conjured up by Brexiteers and charlatans, who profess to know better than the legal and economic experts of this country.”
He reminded the crowd that the referendum was non-binding and told everyone, to huge cheers, that the Prime Minister: “can, and indeed should, ignore the referendum’s outcome, and should put it to Parliament to decide.”
Through all of this, there were the signs – daubed with political slogans and showing a mix of anger and youthful creativity. they’re all cringe in their attempt to be funny, but credit where it’s due for imagination. The weather caused a fair few of them to suffer, with fresh paint running off in the rain, and cardboard signs began to wilt.
There was even some dodgy poetry stuck up on one of the walls.
And last, but not least: