Thousands of Leave supporters amassed outside parliament on Friday (29 March) to protest the Government’s handling of Brexit, whilst inside Theresa May’s proposed EU withdrawal deal got voted down for the third time.
Two separate groups took to the streets outside Westminster, the UKIP-organised Make Brexit Happen rally and the March to Leave, which began in Sunderland two weeks ago.
The groups set up stages in close enough proximity to one another to make the two events feel like one merged occasion. Amidst a lager and cigarette infused carnival atmosphere, the vehemently anti-EU crowds excitedly chanted and flitted between the two platforms, eager to hear speeches from their Brexit idols.
High-profile speakers included Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson, both of whom drew rapturous applause from an audience seeming to hang on their every word.
“We are the mainstream,” said Robinson, in one such moment of galvanising rhetoric at the Make Brexit Happen stage, certainly the more raucous of the two congregations.
Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, went on to say: “So Theresa May has lost her vote. Many people will be asking what does that even mean. It means we were betrayed. Today is supposed to be our Independence Day.”
Betrayal seemed to be the buzzword on everybody’s lips, on a day many of these people had expected to be a celebration of their departure from the union.
“I think it will get delayed and I think it won’t happen,” said Jordan, from Peterborough.
“I think he [Robinson] should speak here today, one hundred per cent. All he wants is this country back the way it was.”
On the Leave Means Leave side of proceedings, Brexiteers were equally dismayed and disappointed by what they saw as the Government’s failure to deliver on the 2016 referendum result.
“We want our democracy back,” said Madeline Jenkins, from Brentwood. “Trade will carry on regardless of what these people over the road in Parliament say.
“What do you think we did before, 45 years ago? We survived quite well and we were trading with the whole world.”
This echoed the apparent view of many of the sign-holders parading under banners such as “No deal is the best deal,” “Let’s go WTO” and “WTO = global Britain,” in reference to the World Trade Organization rules the UK would automatically fall back on if we left without a deal.
As the last of the speeches wound up, the crowd dispersed against the backdrop of Big Ben, encased in scaffolding and not set to chime again until 2021.
Whether the UK will still be in the EU at that time remains to be seen, but both sides of the debate have now had their say outside Parliament.
It is now up to the members of that body to decide what to do with it.