Final Say march: Hundreds of thousands to flood streets of London for giant Brexit protest

Demonstrators from all over the country gather under Together for the Final Say banner as MPs vote on Johnson’s deal

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 18 October 2019 19:45
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Brexiteers and Remainers unite to explain all the reasons why we need a People's Vote

Hundreds of thousands of supporters of a Final Say referendum on Brexit will flood the streets of London on Saturday in what is expected to be one of the largest political protests Britain has ever seen.

As MPs in the House of Commons vote on the EU withdrawal deal reached by Boris Johnson in Brussels, huge numbers of voters on the streets outside will be loudly declaiming their demand that the final decision should be made by the public.

In the fourth major People’s Vote march since the 2016 referendum, backed by The Independent’s Final Say campaign, they will make their way from Park Lane to Parliament Square, holding high banners calling for a fresh public vote with the option to Remain in the EU.

Organisers are hoping the Together for the Final Say event will top the million-plus marchers who joined the last demonstration in the spring, with 172 coaches – more than for any previous People’s Vote rally – bringing supporters from around the country.

They will hear from speakers including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, whose presence at the march is a mark of Labour’s shift towards supporting a Final Say vote. Although it plans to go into the next election on a promise of negotiating its own Brexit agreement, the party is committed to a referendum on any “credible” deal and last week indicated it would support efforts to subject Johnson’s plan to a public vote.

Mr McDonnell said: “I’m proud to stand with hundreds of thousands of people in demanding that they, not wealthy, privileged and out-of-touch hard-right Tory MPs, have the final say on what is an even worse deal than Theresa May’s.

“Our policy is clear: Let the people decide.”

Marchers will also hear a video appeal from former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major pleading MPs not to back a deal which they fear will “wreck” the Northern Ireland peace process and risk the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Blair will describe the treatment of Northern Ireland in the Johnson deal as “a shame and an outrage”, while Sir John will say he finds it “extraordinary” that the Conservative and Unionist Party which he once led is now ready to take a course which “may in the future break apart the United Kingdom”.

Among those taking part in the massive march will be mother-of-four Pauline Hardman from the mining village of Ushaw Moor in County Durham, who will be travelling to London for the first time to make her voice heard.

“If you read the newspapers, you’d think that everyone in the northeast thinks exactly the same way, that we all want Brexit whatever the cost,” she said.

A People's Vote rally in Leeds in June

“But that’s not what I hear when I speak to my neighbours and friends. We know the facts of Brexit now, we know the damage it will cause and we know our part of the country will be hit first and hardest. The more we learn about Brexit, the more I see people changing their minds.”

Another marcher will be 97-year-old Brigadier Stephen Goodall, who served the British armed forces in the Far East during the Second World War and is travelling to the protest from his home in South Devon.

He said: “Nearly 80 years ago I fought to create peace, and on Saturday four generations of my family will march to keep that peace, to keep Europe together and to do the best thing for our country rather than what’s best for short-term politics.

“I’m 97 years old, my knees are knackered from playing rugby, and I’ll be in a wheelchair, but as long as I’m still alive and kicking, I’ll march to defend the democracy I’ve always fought to protect.”

An anti-Brexit campaigner takes part in last year’s People’s Vote march

Joanne Chapman is part of a group who cycled from Sheffield to Brussels and are riding on to London for Saturday’s march.

“We’re going the extra mile, cycling from Sheffield to London via Brussels, so we can call in and remind our European neighbours that Boris Johnson and his hard Brexit mob in Downing Street do not speak for many millions of people in this country,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sally Campbell, from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, had to catch the ferry from her home in the Isle of Arran at 7.40am on Friday to make it down to the capital in time.

She said that the lobster and scallop fishermen who she works with rely on frictionless trade with Europe for their livelihoods.

“Boris Johnson and his extreme Brexit mob in Downing Street are in a different universe from the independent fishermen of Scotland,” she said. “They are deaf to our concerns and intent on delivering Brexit at all costs, whatever that means for communities like ours.

“That’s why I’m going to London on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of other people who have been forgotten by this government: we’re going to march right up to the gates of parliament, they’ll have a hard time ignoring us then.”

Speakers at the rally in Parliament Square are drawn from across the political spectrum, all united in their determination to ensure that voters have the Final Say on any Brexit deal.

A disapproving astronaut-protester in Brighton last month

They will include Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Conservative former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, Green MP Caroline Lucas and spearheads of the parliamentary and legal battles to stop no-deal, Dominic Grieve, Hilary Benn and Joanna Cherry.

Star Trek actor Sir Patrick Stewart and Great British Bake-Off co-presenter Sandi Toksvig are also lending their support, and coaches bringing supporters from around the country have been sponsored by celebrities including TV chef Delia Smith, satirist Armando Iannucci, Harry Potter star Jason Isaacs and actress Natascha McElhone.

Campaigners will gather on Park Lane from noon on Saturday, with the march setting off 20 minutes later and snaking its way down Piccadilly and through Trafalgar Square to arrive at Parliament Square for the rally at 2pm.

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