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Brexit day march: MPs 'abused in street' as thousands join Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson rallies

Demonstrators talk ‘treason’ and ‘betrayal’ on day Britain was meant to leave the EU

Adam Forrest
Saturday 30 March 2019 10:02 GMT
Pro-Brexit supporters rally outside Parliament

It was supposed to be the day Brexiteers rejoiced at the nation’s exit from the EU. Instead, thousands of Leave voters and far-right activists gathered outside parliament to show their anger at the UK’s delayed and increasingly uncertain departure.

While Nigel Farage addressed the Leave Means Leave rally at Parliament Square on Friday afternoon, Tommy Robinson held a separate Make Brexit Happen event only a couple of hundred yards away at the bottom of Whitehall.

The crowds at both rallies chanted “we want Brexit” and “out means out”, giving huge cheers to any speaker denouncing the “betrayal” of the 2016 referendum result.

Many shouted “treason” and “traitors” at any mention of Remain politicians or the government’s negotiated delay to the planned 29 March exit date.

Some expressed their hostility face-to-face: at least two MPs were abused by pro-Brexit supporters in the streets outside parliament.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy said she was “accosted by people shouting f****** traitor”, while the SNP’s Joanna Cherry said she was “called a traitor” and “told to go back to my own country”.

Five people were arrested during the demonstrations, including two for assault, one for assaulting a police officer and one for drunk and disorderly behaviour, according to the Metropolitan Police.

The mood remained defiant and the tone uncompromising, amid chaos in the Commons.

News that Theresa May’s deal had been defeated for a third time was greeted with huge cheers in Parliament Square. For many of the protesters, a no-deal Brexit has become the only Brexit worthy of the name.

Dozens of people held placards with some variation on “WTO now”, and there was delight when Tory MP Mark Francois – the ERG stalwart – told the crowd he had voted against Ms May’s deal again. “Prime minister, what part of no, no, no don’t you understand?”

Taking to the stage shortly after 5pm, Mr Farage initially sounded a downbeat note before rallying his supporters to further political battles ahead.

“The betrayal will probably be repeated on 11 April,” he said of the possibility of a longer delay. “If that means we have to fight the European elections I will fight them. If there’s a second referendum, we’ll beat them by a bigger margin.”

“We will get our country back,” he added. “We will win.”

Juliet Evans, 51, from Chester, told The Independent: “This is the last chance for Brexit and for British democracy. We need to leave as soon as possible, and moving on to WTO rules doesn’t scare me in the slightest.”

Mike Whitby, 66, travelled to London from north Wales with a group of friends waving plastic pitchforks.

“What’s happening now is treason,” he said. “Parliament is committing treason because they are trying to usurp the democratic process. Parliament is not sovereign – the people are sovereign.

“We need to get out of the EU as soon as possible because we want to close our borders, because our doors are wide open at the moment.”

One man climbed onto the Churchill statue on Parliament Square to make his point (Reuters)

While some demonstrators flitted between the stages, the Tommy Robinson rally remained the smaller, more heavily male and more raucous of the two events.

Organised jointly with Ukip, the gathering was joined by around 100 or so men from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. Flags representing the far-right Generation Identity group could be seen at the bottom of Whitehall.

Chanting their go-to tune of “oh Tommy Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy Robinson”, many of Robinson’s fans booed and shouted at police officers standing on the pavements.

One man draped in an England flag approached an officer to ask him: “You agree with everything he’s saying, don’t you?”

The officer shook his head and said: “No.”

Robinson on stage at the Brexit day event (AFP/Getty) (Getty)

Robinson made a series of rambling speeches over several hours, initially directing his attacks at the media. He played a series of videos attempting to show how he and his allies had been misconstrued and unfairly edited.

If the crowd appeared slightly bored by his video lectures about journalism, they were roused by Ukip leader Gerard Batten and the “betrayal” over Brexit. “Never before have we been governed by such as set of traitors and quislings,” Mr Batten said.

While the Robinson-UKIP mob chanted God Save the Queen, the event at Parliament Square finished up with short blasts of Rule Britannia and I Vow to Thee, My Country.

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Some warned of even angrier days ahead if Britain fails to leave the EU in the next couple of months and a longer delay goes into effect.

“I feel like the MPs have trashed our democracy – they’ve betrayed us,” Alicia Drapier, 34, told The Independent. “People are angry but they’re also determined. They’re not going to easily surrender if we don’t get Brexit. They’re not going to go away quietly.”

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