March to Leave reaches London, footsore and angry

On a wet and windy morning two weeks ago, Brexiters assembled on a clifftop outside Sunderland and set a course for Westminster.

The March to Leave was intended as a show of anger and defiance at the paralysis in parliament over Brexit that has prevented the UK from leaving the EU on the original scheduled date of March 29.

As the marchers traversed England, some expressed fears that their much cherished goal of Brexit could be slipping away.

“We voted [for Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum] in good faith, with faith in our MPs,” said Belinda de Lucy, 42, who walked the last stage of the march dressed as a suffragette. “But if anything, maybe Brexit has exposed a rot in parliament.”

At the start of the week, just as the marchers had reached Leicestershire, MPs were preparing to try to seize control of the Brexit process from prime minister Theresa May in the wake of her EU withdrawal deal being rejected by parliament.

A Brexit protester in Parliament Square on the plinth of the statue of Winston Churchill © Charlie Bibby/FT

The MPs began voting on alternative plans to Mrs May’s deal, including another referendum and softer forms of Brexit, on Wednesday.

“They don’t believe in Britain,” said Richard Tice, founder of Leave Means Leave, the pro-Brexit campaign group which organised the March to Leave. MPs’ actions were a “betrayal of Brexit — a betrayal of the will of the people, and a betrayal of trust in democracy in our country. And who knows where that will go”, he added.

“Betrayal” has been on many a marcher’s lips over the past 14 days, along with “treachery”, “sovereignty”, “democracy” and “just get on with it”. “We voted out and now they’re taking it away from us,” said Ros Watson, 61, who walked every stage.

The 80 or so core marchers who pledged to walk from Sunderland to London included teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, a former banker, a retired hedge fund manager, a podiatrist, a carer, an archaeologist, a carpet factory worker and a former sailor in two navies.

Marchers’ conversation focused on Mrs May’s weakness, parliament’s attempts to sabotage Brexit, and a possible further extension to the Article 50 exit process, as well as grumbles over the organisers’ insistence on keeping the next day’s starting point top secret and growing fatigue.

They shrugged off mocking comparisons to the Put It To The People march for a second Brexit referendum in London last weekend, organised by the cross-party People’s Vote campaign group, which involved hundreds of thousands people.

The core marchers in the March To Leave were covering several miles daily, they said, compared to the short shuffle down Park Lane managed by the “day-trippers who shop at Waitrose” in the People’s Vote event.

As the Brexiters trudged along the pavements of the Midlands, passing motorists honked their horns in support while Leave supporters came out from offices, shops and pubs to cheer them on.

Ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farange joined the march at Vauxhall Bridge, a few blocks from Westminster © Charlie Bibby/FT

But the opposition was never far away. Led By Donkeys, the Remainer activists who put up billboards around the country displaying contradictory or hypocritical quotations from Brexiter politicians, followed them everywhere with truck-mounted screens.

Lone Remainers would appear at intervals exhorting the marchers to think of the ruination of the NHS or of Britain’s trade prospects, though they were either ignored or drowned out with a burst of “Bye-Bye EU” sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”.

On Friday the March To Leave set off from Fulham, south-west London, and the Brexiters walked the last few miles to Westminster, now accompanied by several thousand supporters.

At Vauxhall Bridge, the marchers erupted in cheers at the appearance of the man they regard as their hero — Nigel Farage, former leader of the pro-Brexit UK Independence party.

Several marchers believe the rights and wrongs of Brexit have been transcended by the need to honour the result of the 2016 referendum © Charlie Bibby/FT

With Parliament Square in sight, word filtered through that MPs had just rejected Mrs May’s withdrawal treaty for a third time. A few hundred metres later, the sentiments aimed in the direction of the Palace of Westminster were vitriolic and unrelenting.

Several marchers believe the rights and wrongs of Brexit have been transcended by the need to honour the result of the 2016 referendum.

“The principle of democracy is at stake,” said Alexander Edmonds, 28. “It transcends Remain or Leave. It’s about a decision that was made and how we enact it.”

The reaction from frustrated Leavers could be bigger than the civil disobedience sparked by Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous poll tax, said Joshua Spencer, 24.

“We tried a peaceful revolution at the ballot box,” he added. “We were ignored and ignored, to the point where we are going to have to stand up for ourselves.”

Leave marchers gather round the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square © Charlie Bibby/FT




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