For months, Saturday March the 25th had been earmarked by ‘Unite for Europe’ as the day to celebrate the EU and ‘march for Europe’. Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that founded the union, and four days before Article 50 is to be invoked, this was the occasion to remind the Tory government that the country remains divided on Brexit.
What could not be predicted was the terrorist attack that took place at Westminster on Wednesday, less than 72 hours earlier. On Thursday rumours circulated that the march had been cancelled; the European Movement, one of the largest organisation due to participate, announced it would not. Still troubled by the attacks, many expressed the necessity for the March to take place none the less.
At 10:00 am, Islington In and Islington Libdems members gathered outside Angel Tube Station, met by the Libdems organisers Valentina Giordano, Pierre Hausemer, Terry Stacy and myself Pierre Delarue.
Travelling in the tube with the fantastic placards designed by Valentina was not easy but we made it to Hyde park Corner early enough to find ourselves right at the front of the march. Despite the beautiful weather the atmosphere was dignified, sombre but also resolute. Sadness was palpable, and anger too. As we waited for the start of the march, people talked to others and opened up as to why they were here. Many mentioned their love for Europe, of the countries they visited, but also of the idea that conflicts can be resolved through negotiations rather than confrontation. A number of EU or dual nationality families explained the stress they are experiencing, feeling increasingly uncertain about their future in the UK. Many said they felt betrayed by Theresa May who despite having campaigned for Remain, is now aiming for the hardest of Brexit.
It was wonderful to walk in the middle of Piccadilly, and to the beat ot the drums through Saint James. On Whitehall, above a shop named ‘Cool Britania’, a stereo blaring ‘Love is all you need’ through opened windows reminded us of a Britain that seems long gone.
A number of leading politicians addressed the large crowd gathered at Parliament Square.
The organisers expected about 25,000 people, but attendance was closer to 100,000. Although two Labours MPs were amongst the speakers, Labour activists were totally absent from the crowd. Not one single labour logo was to be seen, a clear sign that like Theresa May, Labour has abandoned Europe.
Mike Galsworthy, Alastair Campbell, Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley, Lib Dem former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron amongst others spoke with passion about their fight for a United Kingdom in Europe.
Alastair Campbell said “I know I am in a minority in thinking Brexit can be stopped. I am not in a minority in thinking it should be. Yes, I meet people who say we have had the vote, now get on with it. But I meet many more who say what on Earth are we doing? Who says that if you see a car heading towards a cliff edge you change direction. Or you slam on the brakes. You admit that the route you are taking is not the one you thought it would be.”
Tim Farron called for a second referendum to "change the direction of our nation." He went on to explain: "The choice is who should decide the final deal. Should it be politicians or the people? The Liberal Democrats say the people.”
Theresa May has no mandate for a hard Brexit and no mandate to take Great Britain out of Europe without a deal. The Islington LibDems will keep fighting and demanding she get a popular mandate for her plans.