Last Saturday, thousands marched on a sunny afternoon in London to tell the government that the Brexit issues are still very much alive. And they’ll continue to march until Britain sees the only way back to our place in the world is to rejoin the EU.
Bigger than anticipated
The organisers of the National Rejoin March didn’t expect such large numbers to gather in London yesterday when activists from our region joined 50,000 people from all over the country to wave their flags and banners in favour of rejoining the EU.
The conversation on the Norfolk bus to London was all about the disaster in the country caused by Liz Truss’s financial experiment. While to Truss, Kwarteng and their backers, this was just the next step in the Brexit plan, the financial markets didn’t believe that the British economy could sustain such expense, and the mini-budget brought the British economy crashing to the ground.
Jon Turner, who has worked with local companies to help them set up trade with EU countries, said, ‘I’m convinced that the UK does much better in the EU’. He expressed his disappointment that so much progress had been thrown away because so many swallowed the lies they were told by the Leave campaign. ‘People fell for slogans like “We want our sovereignty back” without really understanding what we had with the trade links, without really understanding what we would lose,’ he said. ‘Small companies just find the bureaucracy too complex, time consuming and expensive now compared with how it used to be – like trading with partners down the road! Many have lost their key markets in Europe.’
Veronica said she was joining the march ‘to let the government know we are still here.’ She echoed what other people were saying: ‘Brexit has been a disaster.’ ‘The Tories have had 6 years to prove the benefits of Brexit and have failed.’ ‘The cost of living is out of control. Mortgages are going through the roof.’ ‘The country is falling apart.’ ‘The Tories are imploding and have lost control.’ ‘We need a general election.’
The key messages
The atmosphere was lively and jovial. There was dancing in the street with brass bands playing. While some of the old familiar messages were still there: “Bollocks to Brexit”, “Tories out”, there were also a lot of new ones, many reflecting the current political and economic chaos in Britain, such as “For lower bills, rejoin the EU”, “Brexit wrecks it”, “Brexit is not normal for Norfolk”, “All hail the tofu hating wokerati”.
The key message for the march was, “We want our star back”. And as the march passed Downing Street, there was no doubt what was top of people’s minds: ‘What do we want?’– ‘A general election now!’
Some of the Speakers
The most popular speakers were the two from the EU, who reiterated several times that the EU door will always be open for the UK to rejoin, contrary to the messages from the government: Terry Reinke from Germany told the crowds, ’We still love and miss you!’ She said that ‘Brexit is a cautionary tale for all European countries’ and that it is important not to be silent when populist discourse takes over.
Guy Verhofstadt, EU Parliament Brexit Coordinator until 2020, entered the stage to huge cheers. He said that having to negotiate the UK leaving the EU was the worst job he’d ever had to do. ‘Everything happening in Ukraine and Russia argues for a united Europe,’ he said and promised to be at every Rejoin march until the UK is back in the EU. He was presented with a giant model of the UK’s star of unity for safekeeping until the UK rejoins the EU.
Nicola Tipton read her moving poem, “I want my country back” in which she describes feeling like a refugee in her own country which has become a place she no longer recognises.
Other speakers included Mike Galsworthy, one of the coordinators of the Rejoin March. He talked about the importance of regaining membership of the Erasmus Programme, and Scientists for Europe. From taking a leading role in innovating science projects, the UK is now in fifth position and losing £1.5 billion in grants for scientific research. Julius Lajtha, President of the Young European Movement, made a plea for young people who he says are disproportionately failed by Brexit: it is more difficult to study abroad; they have lost their freedom of movement and have no representation.
Most of the speakers talked about the failure of Brexit and said that it is time the government came clean about it. It’s been 6 years since the UK voted to leave the EU and there is no sight of any benefits. In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) thinks that the UK’s economy will shrink by 4% because of Brexit. This translates into £100 billion a year, which means £40 billion the economy is not earning in tax receipts. Of course, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have had some effect but when we compare the situation with other countries under the same pressures, we see that the British economy is growing slower than all except Russia.
Demand for General Election
Rather than the benefits promised by the Leave campaign, what people are seeing in their lives, as described by Siobhan Benita, a former civil servant, is a crashed economy, social care in crisis, an understaffed and underfinanced NHS, a return of roaming charges, soaring cost of living, rising mortgages. She added that Brexit has destroyed 4 Prime Ministers, made the UK a laughing stock worldwide, and given the Tories one of their lowest polls in recent memory.
By the end of the day, the mood felt optimistic that change is possible. A resounding cry from the Rejoin March was: We want a General Election now.