News, Politics

The People’s Vote March in London and Harrogate’s Counter Protest

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By Shawna Healey
Photography: Philip Orton

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London this weekend to demand a second referendum on the Brexit deal.

The peaceful demonstration organised by the People’s Vote campaign and run by Open Britain, took place on Saturday and is said to have been the biggest public rally of government opposition since the 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War.

The People’s Vote campaign states on their website that their mission is to seek to ensure that the government’s Brexit deal proposal is put before British citizens in a public vote so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations will make the country better or worse off.

‘Brexit negotiations are taking us towards a future that nobody voted for. With only a few weeks left to go before MPs are expected to vote on what looks like it will be a bad Brexit deal, now is the time to take action.’

The British public voted to leave the EU by a margin of 51.89% to 48.11% in the referendum in June 2016. The UK is scheduled to leave on 29th March 2019, under the terms of the two-year Article 50 process. The People’s Vote said that demonstration stewards estimated an attendance of around 700,000, although this figure is still awaiting confirmation from Scotland Yard.

The demonstration has been supported by some MPs who are also in favour of a new vote, despite Prime Minister Theresa May already ruling this out as a possibility. A Downing Street official said there would be no second referendum: “We had a people’s vote in 2016. A second referendum would really be a politicians’ vote – politicians telling the people they got it wrong the first time and should try again. That would do lasting damage to faith in democracy.”

The MPs supporting the People’s Vote contain a cross-party line up including former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, Conservative Anna Soubry, Labour’s Chuka Umunna, and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran. Labour’s Lord Adonis also showed his support of the People’s Vote movement. He said, “Brexit’s becoming a dog’s dinner. This week’s fresh chaos and confusion over Brexit negotiations has exposed how even the best deal now available will be a bad one for Britain.”

The demonstration was held in unison with a counter protest pro-Brexit rally in Harrogate, led by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and organised by the group Leave Means Leave, and attended by a considerably smaller number of around 1,200.

Labour MP Kate Hoey and Conservative MP Owen Paterson spoke at the event, pledging to “rescue Brexit,” and “support for the Brexit Britain voted for”. Leave Means Leave described the campaign for a second referendum as a “losers’ vote”.

Farage told Sky News he believed that, in a second referendum, “the damage to trust and faith in our entire democratic system would be enormous […] I’m quite happy to have another referendum in 20 years or so, when we work out exactly what shape’s Europe’s going to be and how happy we are as an independent nation.”

Richard Tice, founder of Leave Means Leave and former co-chair of Leave.EU, told BBC Breakfast: “The idea that you should have a second referendum would be incredibly damaging – most of all to the trust in democracy from people up and down this country.”

Sir Alan Duncan, the de facto deputy to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, also commented on the march, stating that Conservative MPs have a duty to show the British public that they can deliver a moderate and sensible Brexit in the national interest, but that this will not be possible if so many people with differing beliefs refuse to compromise.

Mayor of London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, in contrast, stated, “What’s really important is that those that say that a public vote is undemocratic, is unpatriotic, realise that in fact, the exact opposite is the truth. What could be more democratic, what could be more British, than trusting the judgement of the British people.”

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable also spoke at the People’s Vote rally, declaring that “people have woken up to the potential disaster” of Brexit, adding “we’ve realised there isn’t a good deal coming out of this and a lot of people are frightened, people are worried”.

Food writer and Remain advocate Delia Smith also addressed the enormous crowd at the People’s Vote march, arguing that Brexit threatens to cause unmitigated chaos. She said, “The only way we can avoid this total madness and win back our future has to be a people’s vote.”

Citizens in attendance at the People’s Vote demonstration included young families, with children wrapped in EU flags, NHS staff and LGBT groups, and some people even dressed up their pets for the protest.

About the author / 

Shawna Healey

I'm Shawna, 21, and Welsh studying Geography at MMU. I have varying interests and opinions but usually its all things feminism.

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