Ahead of Saturday’s People’s Vote march in London, it was predicted that around 100,000 would take to the streets to demand a say on the deal which would see us leave the European Union. Seven times that number turned up on the day and I was one of them.
Spilling out of Marble Arch Tube station was a sea of European flags. Deep blue and gold stars on T-shirts, hats, banners and posters – everywhere. Despite the abundance of people, it took a moment or two to realise this wasn’t the start of the march, it was just feeding the back-end of it. It was midday, the scheduled leaving time, but nobody moved for nearly two hours, such was the size of the crowd.
So who was there? Reading some Sunday newspapers you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a middle-class yuppies day out. One broadsheet splashed with a picture of placard saying ‘I missed bottomless brunch for this’.
It’s pretty crass to judge anyone based on how they look, sound or what they wear, but even if, and it’s a big if, the march was full of the well paid, fed and educated classes – are we really taking lectures in authenticity and grit from those working–class heroes Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg? As ever, class is irrelevant when we’re talking about shared principles and values.
The European Union represents peace and prosperity. It was born out of war and delivered economic progress for its members alongside enhanced social rights, not least the employment rights so many of us enjoy. Those in the British establishment who want Brexit, want it specifically so they can unstitch that shared history to reintroduce free market principles. They arrogantly believe Empire Britain will win any race on these terms, even if it is to the bottom.
Humour was a central theme to many of the messages, clearly lost on some. I saw many other signs which said with classic British understatement “I’m really cross”. Equally though, I saw countless angry signs calling leading Leave campaigners liars, others demanding to know how this mess will be explained to the next generation. Like any protest though, it matters not what was written on any individual sign, but the sum of its parts. What I experienced and then saw later on TV was well over half a million people gathered in Park Lane, marching past some of the most elite wealth in the country, spilling down towards Parliament Square taking a stand against a Government which is all at sea over Brexit.
There is currently no Parliamentary majority for any of the options on the table. The Prime Minister told us yesterday that 95 per cent of the deal was done, omitting the reality that the 5 per cent contained the hugely contentious issue of a border in Northern Ireland. As we currently stand there will be a border; Brexiteers are just fighting over whether it should be across the land mass of Ireland, or in the sea. It’s pathetic. Pathetic and dangerous, jeopardising 20 years of peace.
All the focus on a customs union also forgets how many jobs in the UK are aligned to the European single market. If you sell insurance policies rather than widgets, this is of the utmost concern because the service industry is under serious threat. Twenty-five per cent of all jobs in this city depend on a vibrant financial sector. Brexit threatens that, which is no doubt part of the reason why Edinburgh voted overwhelming to remain.
And what of that question of democracy? Those who say the people have spoken seem to think that a democracy extends only to a cross in a box. It has to mean more than that, informing and shaping the decisions that bind us and yes, being able to change our mind if the facts change too.
I want the final deal put to a vote not to circumvent democracy but to respect it. You should get to endorse or reject the deal the government has negotiated on your behalf. That’s if the government can secure a deal at all. In the event of no deal, a People’s Vote is even more compelling because the UK Government will have failed us all.