‘I don’t give a fuck about Brexit’ shouted a largely bald man outside a Westminster pub, whilst waving a placard which linked Brexit to hate crimes. He’s clearly commandeered the placard and both him, and his five or six mates, looked more than a little pissed. He repeats the slogan several times, then breaks into football style chanting. None of the surrounding anti-Brexit protestors pays him much attention. They’re far too well behaved, too Liberal-Democrat, to do that. Or perhaps they just recognise, at some level, that they’ve lost. I’m genuinely not sure which.
The ‘Unite for Europe’ march, which took place through our capital on 25 March, was dissimilar to any I’ve seen before. It felt like a protest, carnival and wake rolled into one. The march, predominantly anti-Brexit, spent several hours meandering through Central London from Park Lane to Parliament. I’m not sure how many people attended. I’m terrible with estimates and I’m not mad enough to have counted. One organiser told me he though there were around 70,000. I suspect the actual figure was significantly lower, but can’t be sure.
The marchers were true Europhiles. They didn’t begrudgingly support Britain’s EU membership out of economic self-interest, they thought the EU itself was great. The march was a lake of EU flags and largely homemade pro-EU placards. I asked a number of attendees why they were marching. Generally they argued that the EU has been important in promoting peace, cultural exchange and tolerance. Economic arguments, the bread and butter of the ‘Remain’ campaign during the referendum, featured relatively rarely.
Those demonstrating were, on average, older than I was expecting. We know that the youth voted predominantly for Remain, yet their representation at the march was sparse. Most were middle-age, some a fair bit older. The march somewhat resembled a rolling Liberal Democrat conference. This wasn’t the newly politicised youth taking to the streets, but the battle-scarred Europhile old guard continuing the fight.
But when I spoke to them, and I engaged with a decent number, there was more than a whiff of resignation in the air. All wanted Brexit stopped, and some thought that as the ‘realities’ of Brexit are revealed public opinion will swing their way. And yet half of those I spoke to admitted, when pushed, that they think Brexit will happen. Some weren’t marching in the belief that they could prevent Brexit but as an act of defiance, a final statement before the inevitable. I couldn’t help but wonder if, in both a literal and figurative sense, I was watching the last march of the Remainers.