The undoing of Brexit has been incremental so that it has been difficult to pin down any one point at which to say “Stop!”
We may be reaching the end of this Brexit saga to fully confront what many suspected: the establishment will never let the people win. But did we fully know the swamp went so deep and the establishment would go as far as it is doing to thwart the people’s will?
We’re but passive on-lookers to this treachery manufactured in the Houses of Parliament and the corridors of Whitehall and Brussels. We’ve watched the Big Brexit Betrayal unfold, with growing incredulity and anger.
Have you thought at any point that Brexit did not mean Brexit? That we were getting Brexit In Name Only? That we would not even get BRINO, but Aggravated Remain? When did you first think, will Brexit even happen at all? Are you now thinking, we might as well stay in (revoke A50) and do it all over again? Or are you just waiting for D-Day, confident it will come?
When we should have been booking Independence Day celebration parties, putting champagne or our favourite festive tipple in the fridge, order some Royal Mail commemorative stamps, we had a growing sinking feeling that 29th March was going to be the biggest anti-climax of all, leaving us sick in the stomach.
“Brexit: not going well is it” is a slogan on Remainer placards. We need a second vote, they shout, look at all the things that have come to light since the referendum, we need to vote again, knowing all the things we now know! Well, you sad remoaners might be better informed now, but none of the Leavers I know, or know of, are one bit surprised by what has come to light. People made it intractably difficult to achieve, complicating the issue, inventing a backstop and tying parliamentarians and the Constitution in knots!
Certainly what Brexit and the ensuing constitutional crisis have done is to wake more people up to how badly governed we are. Remainers have subverted the Constitution as well as Cabinet Government. Constitutional vandalism is rife. MPs are not representing the people. But that and other battles are best left for another day as leaving the EU is the prerequisite to all of them.
Is Exit Day even within reach? A second extension of Article 50 and/or a second referendum will divide us and entrench us more and more, with the risk that Brexit fatigue and on-going uncertainty will blunt the fighting spirit. EU Parliamentary elections might just about give Leavers the perverse satisfaction to send to Brussels an army of eurosceptic MEPs who will wreak havoc with federalist plans for the next FIVE years!
The uncertainty of what was going to happen by the end of March 2019 was gnawing at us and now we are wondering what trick is going to be pulled out of whose hat to prevent Exit Day to be on 12th of April.
Each of us is thinking: I watch Brexit being sabotaged, day after day, a little more with every day that passes, what can I do? Each day I watch the country of fair play, of the gentleman’s agreement, of my word is my bond, being humiliated, undermined and betrayed; what can I do?
What can we do? Stop watching the news bulletins and programmes and huddle in a corner of the sofa with a pre-diversity dvd boxset? Run down the clock, a second time, in our own little way and not pay any attention to the theatre, the pantomime, playing out out there?
The other day the man in the photo below on the left explained his presence to me. “Am I in the right place?” he asked. “It depends what the placard in your plastic bag says!” was my cautious reply. I got a glimpse of it and reassured him – “yes you are. And it’s home-made! Well done!” He explained: “I couldn’t stay at home and do nothing any more. It’s too frustrating”. He proudly took his place among fellow Brexiteers!
The following day, the elderly gentleman in the central photo below, an 86-year old with walking difficulties, was standing against the railings and ended up being interviewed for a Russian TV channel! The photo is taken after a heavy rain shower and after Attack Dog@GP kindly took him for a regenerative cup of tea.
The elderly lady in the photo on the right was very angry at the betrayal of democracy and was handing out Leave Means Leave stickers.
It is tragic that people feel they have to come out in the street and hold a placard, and it is tragic how their elected representatives have trampled on their views; but many of us feel the same way, there’s some comfort in that.
We’re choking with frustration and anger in front our screens, we need to express our thoughts. And tired of shouting at the telly or the radio, some brandish their thoughts on a placard, so that the message will go a little further.
Yes, I am talking about little things we can do, small acts of resistance. I leave the strategies of direct action and civil disobedience tactics to people better qualified than me.
It’s probably after the Chequers Plan was unveiled in July 2018 that Leavers began to think, – when are the likes of us going to say out loud, we’re not happy with the way this is going! In truth it began to go wrong a long time before that, but it’s been difficult to mobilise Leavers: Protest? But we WON the referendum, what do I have to protest about? The undoing of Brexit has been incremental so that it has been difficult to say “Stop!” at any one point. Progressively though, it became impossible to deny that Leavers were being tricked and Brexit was being diluted to the point of insipidity. There is only so much benefit of the doubt one can give!
Since shortly after the referendum result we’ve been able to subscribe to a number of pro-Brexit groups mailing-lists, keeping us informed about the stages of the Brexit process in all its legal, economic and political intricacies. They’ve kept the flame going and also reassured us we were not alone, such has been the biased barrage of pro-Remain propaganda unleashed by the MSM after the obligation of being impartial was lifted post-referendum. The Bruges Group, Leave.EU and Lawyers for Britain carried on their work, joined by Brexit Central (August 2016), Leave Means Leave (September 2016), Change Britain (December 2016), Briefings for Brexit (March 2018), etc, etc. Some groups are purely informational, others are campaigning; they all have a role to play: one campaigns to deselect MPs who don’t adhere to their own election manifestos and betray their voters by thwarting Brexit; one produces academic papers; one rebukes legal arguments; one prepares for EU elections (including legal action) and a GE. I’ll mention below one that provides for social meet-ups. Colliemum@GP has added her voice by compiling the excellent “Your Daily Brexit Betrayal” on the independencedaily website.
At times I’ve felt like shouting at my screen, I am informed to the hilt, I know too much, so what do we do now?
Brexit protests outside Parliament, protest days of #OUTrage, began in November 2018, leading up to what was scheduled to be the so-called Meaningful Vote on PM May’s so-called Deal (i.e the WA). After the PM postponed the (first) vote on the WA before Christmas, we could sense we were nearing crunch-time, and we were going to have to hold tight.
Since the beginning of 2019, Leave Means Leave (LML) have called their supporters to protest outside of Westminster five times (sometimes three days running) and Ukip called its members out twice (but Kippers are well-represented at the LML outings). Other smaller groups have been there several times a week, every week, every parliament sitting day for some. This regularity has prompted some people to just turn up and join in.
It started when we could all see on our screens the wall of EU flags and banners as background to the interviews conducted by the likes of BBC and Sky, when we could see day after day some “professional” Remainers taking ownership of the place outside the Houses of Parliament.
At these protests it was painfully clear that Leavers were out-numbered, out-spent and out-resourced but reclaiming the space as well as the narrative has to be done. Thankfully, the LML banners have grown bigger at each rally and the flag poles higher to resist the choke and the flapping of the blue! Attack Dog@GP’s flags have been noticed, as well as the puffin on a pole! With such regular presence outside Parliament, the media have had no choice but to acknowledge that Leavers are there too.
To have the Brexit message seen on the screens was the first necessity, followed by being interviewed, filmed and photographed. Reporters like a bit of colour, of drama, a nice mix of image and sound – I have heard them ask the Brexivists, – “chant something!” “Bye bye EU bye bye EU” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne followed …
Standing outside Westminster, apart from being seen through the windows of the Palace, also gave the opportunity to activists to chat with MPs on their way in or out. Encouraging them to hold fast or reminding them who elects them is satisfying! On 27th February, for example, Sammy Wilson stopped to talk to Brexiteers, for a long time (long enough to attract the attention of a Japanese TV crew who then interviewed him, with Leave placards all around him!). The discussion was serious, Leavers held their own with the MP, it was wonderful to witness. The day before, activists had a chat with Davis Davis, James Cleverly, Boris Johnson. As for the civil servants scurrying along, identified by the lanyard around their neck that they try to hide, it is good that they see some Leave specimens in action!
Passers-by stopped for a chat and expressed their support, some asked to hold a placard and their companion takes a photo of the act; tourists are more bemused but I’ve seen a couple of Indians separately asking to join in for a photo (I’ve also seen EU tourists do the same with Remainers!). Some students too. One American said after posing, “We’re visiting but our son lives in London and he supports you.”
An effect of these street protests has been to spread the Brexit message beyond Britain: international TV cameramen and journos have been trudging up and down the same street as the activists, camera shutters clicking away and big furry microphones in faces! I know of Leavers who have been interviewed by Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, French, Belgian, Swiss, Danish broadcasters. If the interviews are broadcast or printed, it allows the pro-Brexit case to be aired in EU-land and beyond. Disinformation is so rife out there that they might redress the balance a bit.
Another example that the tension had been steadily rising, the Bruges Group (BG) has held six events since the beginning of 2019, (previously they were not even monthly!). The format is commonly to have two MPs and an economist or a businessman as speakers. The BG events took place in the evening, in St James. At 7pm, a drink and nibbles afterwards, cozy, comforting and uplifting. What the BG wanted was to convince the people. Since it became obvious that the fight was now within the Houses of Parliament, the meetings started to take place at lunch-time and the venue is very close to the House of Commons. Grumble, grumble, lunch-time is not so convenient for everybody, but it actually makes sense: what the BG and its audience wanted to do now was to convince the MPs. Stand firm! Don’t let us down! Hear our mounting frustration and anger! MPs can hop in, rush back to the Commons for a debate or a vote, but take with them a dose of grassroots reality! Also, as importantly, the media are there. 7pm? Forget it. Not just the filming, but the editing etc. 1pm? Now you’re talking! British and international media are flocking in, film it all, hear it all for themselves, interview some punters. And it’s out on the airwaves, catching the media cycle, relayed by social media, in no time!
Ultimately, all this does not seem to make much difference. What will?
I do accept that it can be a bit pathetic to think one makes a difference by just being there, trying to swell the numbers. However don’t forget that Leavers are in enemy territory in London. Many have not been able to “come out”, at work particularly. The success of Lucy Harris’ Leavers of London, now Leavers of Britain, attests to the need that Leavers feel to meet up in a safe space and chat among themselves. It is actually quite a sight, these Communists, Greens, Lib Dems, Tories, Labourites, Kippers and probably other political shades, and none, chatting and drinking together!
Meeting up in the street is empowering at an individual and personal level, and widening the circle of Leavers feels good when Brexit has revealed an existential divide as much a political one – How many Remainer friends have you got left?
In the grand scheme of things this small-scale street activism is nothing. Maybe a couple of photos of these valiant Brexiteers will make it into the history books. And just a tiny bit of their limited action will have a scintilla of impact on the final outcome, hopefully like every campaigner, every street stall, every leaflet contributed to the result of the 2016 campaign. It’s not all blowing in the wind!
Anyway, as long as there’ll be Remainers in full EU regalia at Westminster, there’ll need to be Leavers too. You cannot let the media, the Remainers themselves, the politicians and the civil servants passing by, and the TV viewers all over the country and beyond think we’re all Remain now and don’t care what happens next.
On 27 February and subsequent Wednesdays the Leavers’ street protests took on an unexpected air: London black cabs staged a still and silent protest for a few hours and their cars were lined around Parliament Square and on Whitehall. Traffic was suspended and it was eerily silent. The Leave placards “Hoot for Brexit” fell a bit flat but the upside is that Brexiteers could march in the middle of the street from Abingdon Street to 10 Downing Street and back. Cabbies clapped along the way, punctuating the chanting, some even joined the short march. When they resume work the hooting as they pass is deafening!
Incidentally, what the cabbies show is that there is strength in numbers: the police cannot get a hundred + of them to move along so the street belongs to them. There might be a lesson there.
It turned out that the short march pictured above was a foretaste of the 14-day march that LML officially announced the next day. The peaceful protest between Sunderland and London aimed to demonstrate the depth and breadth of popular discontent with the Big Brexit Betrayal unfolding, getting worse with each day that passed. The march captured Leavers’ imagination and making a roaring success of it became a priority for some of us. Swiss Bob created a page on the forum for GPers to signal their taking part and was himself a Core Marcher.
This was a symbolic march, in Rorke’s Drift territory, and as much as some Leavers might deplore that it had come to this, they had various ways of getting behind the initiative and supporting it: they spread the message, then joined in and #March2Leave; or they cheered the marchers along the way; or they helped someone to take part by sponsoring a marcher. It was hoped that each stage of the march would be too big to ignore, as a lack of enthusiasm would be seized upon by detractors as confirmation the public has shifted on Brexit. The march raised the morale of Leavers, and hopefully gave the Tories a twinge of insecurity and Lefties a nudge of reality. Keyboard warriors had an opportunity to stretch their muscles and clear their voice or open their wallet and support LML! A D-Day of some sort was in sight, and as Colliemum reminds us every day: K.B.O.!
It culminated in a rally outside Westminster on D-Day, also called Deadline Day or (by me) B-Betray, as by then the date of D-Day had changed.
Parliament Square was filled (that means 10,000 + people) that afternoon with people who came from all over the country, on a working day, at their own expense, to cheer the marchers on their arrival and listen to several short, snappy but arousing speeches. The line-up of speakers was cross-party, which was a masterstroke. Well done to the lefties (Clare Fox, Bredan O’Neill and Paul Embery) who, along with Kate Hoey, agreed to speak before Ian Paisley Jnr (“No Surrender” is still an excellent rallying cry!) and Nigel Farage. The Ukip rally took place in Parliament Street, also protesting against the Brexit Betrayal. There was a carnival atmosphere, some had picnicked on the grass before it got trampled on, people were smiling and talking to each other, we were making a point just by being there. More importantly, LML and ukip should by now have a massive database of volunteers, ready to be activated. As for me, I heeded the message of Dominic Cummings, the brains of Vote Leave 2016:
“PS. Dear Vote Leave activists…
Please get in touch with friends and family who you know are onside. Start rebuilding our network now. The crucial data to collect: name, email, postcode, mobile (full address if possible). If we need to set up a new entity — a campaign, a party — you will be able to plug this straight into new data infrastructure and we will try to grow super-fast. And it looks like we will need to…”
Spending hours on end outside Parliament in the preceding few weeks showed me the stark contrast between the resources at the disposal of the Remainers and those in the support of Brexit. There is literally a handful of Leave organisers, overwhelmed and underfunded, and their PR and organisation skills can leave something to be desired. I was not sure that taking on the March2Leave was not more than LML could chew. The good thing is that in the few weeks before Exit Date Mark I, Brexiteers just turned up at Westminster: when LML cancelled their two days of protest on 13th and 14th March, as they were overstretched in organising the march, did it keep anyone away? Thanks to Kippers out in force, Leavers outnumbered Remainers on the 14th.
In the evening of Thursday 14th March we reached the absurd point at which a majority of MPs, after giving up on the EU issue and giving the people the opportunity to have their say in a referendum, were now putting the fate of the country into EU hands: Please pretty please give us an extension, we can’t possibly brexit right now, how long are you willing to let us suspend in Brexit limbo? I cannot quite believe the UK is on the cusp of asking for another extension.
On Friday 29th March 2019, the Leave Means Leave rally was renamed the Save Brexit rally and Brexit celebratory parties were turned into Sold Down the River protest events, in London and up and down the country. This gave Leavers the opportunity to meet up, regroup, widen the circle and talk strategy.
Some of us had the best non-Brexit week-end possible: an LML rally, a GP dinner hosted by a medal-winning marcher, and the following day an evening with 700 Frenchies (daunting prospect) drinking and singing the Marseillaise to Brexit and Frexit. Several of us placard-wavers had met with the Frexiteers outside Parliament and we got roped in! (they belong to a young and small political party, U.P.R., Gaullist in inspiration, currently at 35, 000+ members, fighting the MSM embargo by relying heavily on the internet and with their own tv channel! Endorsed by the Gilets Jaunes, which should help in the forthcoming EU parliament elections)
Well, Deplorable Puffins, we have several days to rest and regroup before the anticipated next betrayal. Or have we (some resolute Brexiteers will be placard-waving next week again)? I will not mention the second round of “indicative votes”, such is my contempt, but the prospect of MPs voting for the umpteenth time on a Customs Union arrangement and of an MV4 on the PM’s wretched Deal drives me to distraction…
Will placards and rallies suffice to deliver Brexit? No. Will they have helped? Yes, if only our sanity.
Whatever next, we’ll meet again on the barricades.
PS – Apologies if this article seems a bit incoherent with tenses and sequence of events, it has been updated three times, – as events unfold, as the farce deepens, as MPs ride roughshod over the most basic democratic principles and dig deeper.
© Text and photos Sunshine & Showers 2019