The streets of London’s West End were a sea of blue on Saturday for the second National Rejoin March. Police estimates, which are often conservative, were that over 20,000 marchers had travelled from all corners of the UK and beyond to join forces. The aim: to demonstrate that growing numbers are now keen to reverse the Brexit decision.
I asked those travelling to the march from Norwich, Diss and Thetford what their reasons were for joining the march. Many said they had joined in with some or all of the previous marches in support of the UK’s membership of the EU.
“We were fraudulently taken out”
Several marchers cited the deceitful campaigning for Brexit. Jac is nearing the end of a career advising charities and small social enterprises working with the disadvantaged, who were promised that EU funding streams would be replaced; this has not materialised and to her distress some valued organisations have had to close.
Several of the marchers commented on the clear lack of planning and purpose in the campaigning for Brexit and the way it had been enacted since 2016.
Freedom of movement
There were two Anglo-European couples in the coach and three marchers whose partners or children are dual nationals or married to a European partner. For them freedom of movement is a live issue, with consequences for their life plans. Donna, a British woman, and her Spanish husband Inigo have had to forfeit long-held plans to retire to Spain. UK citizens are affected too: Mary and Bob felt keenly that their four children would not have opportunities that had been available to them. Ceira, a trainee nurse, was one of the first on stage, speaking on behalf of Generation Z:
Daniel, who was too young to vote in 2016, mourns the freedom of movement no longer available to his generation; it’s the UK’s loss, he considers: “Immigration is hugely beneficial to this country.” He had never taken part in any such action before, and was pleased to be marching: “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.” Jac recalled the words of the young girl who’d served her a cup of tea as she travelled back from the 2022 Rejoin March: “I didn’t think people your age understood and cared about what this means to us.” The memory of those words had been a major trigger for her marching this year.
“Leaving has been a big mistake”
This is the view of Norma, who would rather be within the EU, even if it meant losing the use of the pound (though it needn’t immediately): “Leaving our closest neighbour – I can’t begin to imagine how people can have thought that would be a good thing.”
Isabelle, a French national who married a UK citizen, regretted the Brexit decision not only for personal reasons but also because she felt that Britain had been a positive influence within the EU, contributing good sense and pragmatism. Terry Reintke, co-president of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, emphasised to the crowd that the UK is missed at the European table.
Brigit, a retired dentist, pointed out that the dismal lack of dentists in our region is due in large part to the fact that EU nationals formerly working in the UK left after Brexit because of feeling unwelcome. Training for dentists had also been inadequate, as her husband commented: “Part of the strategy of UK planning is that it doesn’t plan.”
Veronica, who organised the coach from Norfolk, was concerned about small businesses bearing the consequences of Brexit. Brigit’s husband David runs a business trading in seeds, and has had to all but cease trading with the EU, as the red tape involved, far from disappearing as promised, has increased and added prohibitive costs. The Single Market, he said, had been a “wonderful construct” – trade would be vastly helped if the UK were still in it.
Chris is appalled that we have left a community of mutual support. What, she asked, will happen if we fall out with China, as we already have with Russia – who will we turn to then if we need help?
Signs of hope
John, a research scientist, warmly welcomed the recent announcement that the UK was rejoining Horizon. “I was delighted,” John commented. “To be outside is to be lost … now we’re playing catchup.” He hopes that the next step will be the restoration of the Erasmus scheme for students. Mike Galsworthy, Chair of the European Movement and the founder of Scientists for EU, raised a huge cheer when he mentioned Erasmus in his speech to the crowd, which included students keen to study abroad.
Keeping Rejoin in the spotlight
So why did we march? Mark was keen to get involved in an action with like-minded people. Veronica wanted to show that we still care – both to our government and to our European neighbours. And most echoed the heartfelt comment by Dennis, a retired process control engineer who had travelled and worked throughout Europe: although we could not hope for change soon, it was important to “put a marker down”.