At the crack of dawn on Saturday 23 September three coaches set off from the south west; their destination – London and the National Rejoin March. Those of us on the Devon coach had such a good run up the A303 that we arrived over an hour early, only to be told by the police that we were forbidden to gather at our usual rendezvous point in Hyde Park. This was the consequence of a diktat from the park authorities, at the eleventh hour, I believe – another nail in the coffin of the right to roam?
We were directed across the road where a few early birds had already assembled. They included Steve Bray (AKA Mr Stop Brexit) and we were lucky to ‘have him to ourselves’ for a short while, during which time he was very generous with photo-ops. The new meeting point put us close to the edge of the road, so we made the most of waving banners to elicit honking horns from passing traffic – a bit like being on a picket line (I imagine).
More people quickly gathered, including some of the big guns – Gina Miller and Guy Verhofstadt were ushered to prominent positions at the front of the march as it started. As with previous marches, you could not fail to feel that thrill of being a part of something important. The route followed that of previous years: Park Lane – Piccadilly – St James Street – Pall Mall – Trafalgar Square – Whitehall, ending up in Parliament Square. The pace was steady, slowing down at points where the road narrowed or a corner was negotiated, quickening at other times. The range of imaginative banners, the banter, the good humour throughout, all helped the journey along. The police presence seemed heavy at the start of the march but once we were on the move it was visible but not intrusive – quite friendly, in fact.
On arrival at Parliament Square we gathered on the green in front of a huge screen set above a stage. Impossible for most of us to see the stage, but the screen ensured we missed nothing. There were short speeches from AC Grayling, Ceira Casey, Femi Oluwole, Gina Miller, Guy Verhofstadt, Lisa Burton, Liz Webster, Madeleina Kay, Mike Galsworthy, Rachele Arciulo, Stella Mavropoulou, Steve Bray and Terry Reintke. Quite a line up!
The speakers who brought the biggest lump to my throat were two MEPs, Terry Reintke from Germany and Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium. The warmth with which they expressed how welcome they would make us if we re-joined made the excuses of those Remainers who say “we are where we are” and “it is not worth the effort now” seem a bit limp. When these MEPs take the trouble to come over from Europe to support us, the least we can do is to turn up and listen to them and be grateful that they do not revile us for the unfriendly act that is Brexit.
There are no official numbers for the march as yet, but they certainly ran into the tens of thousands, and, yes, it was disappointing that attendance had fallen back from the ‘heady’ days when a million and more took to the streets. That was, admittedly, when we felt we had a chance of a referendum on the Brexit deal and, potentially, stopping it altogether if voters were made aware of the likely impact and rejected the idea. But then Boris Johnson lied to win the election in 2019 and the rest is a sad history of decline.
If it really matters – and it does – we must keep up the pressure, and in the strongest possible terms. We do not accept the mantra that Brexit cannot be reversed; everyone knows that the referendum was never a fair or honest fight and nobody can deny that the country is now the weaker for Brexit, on so many levels.
Marching provides an easy way for most of us to make that statement, with the difficult organisation being done for us by others. So, a huge thank you to Peter Corr and his team at March for Rejoin and all the pro EU groups and organisations which supported the march and laid on transport to get there. I, for one, am already looking out for the next march!