Friday 29 March was our original date for leaving the EU. While an extension protects us from a No-Deal Brexit, unrest and violence in Westminster highlighted the gravity of what we face. Here Daniel Reast recounts a shameful day for the UK.
I’m not sure if it is ironic or depressing that six days after I wrote an article on hate politics, Friday’s scenes show it in all its vitriolic glory. To tell the truth, I hadn’t expected such a wilful display of anger from the Leave Means Leave march. Many people, including myself, assumed the day would provide a pitiful comparison to the previous Saturday’s anti-Brexit march. I was shocked to see the crowds assembled in Parliament Square and on Whitehall. But it’s difficult to gauge how popular the march truly was without being present. Similar to the People’s Vote march in that respect.
The time that official proceedings were scheduled were later in the day than the People’s Vote march. Speakers were holding their Nuremberg-ish rants at 4pm, allowing time for protestors to convene and cameras to inspect. Whether this timeslot was booked specifically to entice more travelling protestors remains to be seen. But they arrived, certainly in their thousands (The advocacy group Hope not Hate claims 5,000 estimated protestors).
There were two separate stages for demonstrations: one organised by Leave Means Leave with Nigel Farage in Parliament Square, the other on Whitehall sponsored by Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, and UKIP. It showed an unquiet antithesis to have opposing stages calling for the exact same principle. Leave Means Leave’s crowd was certainly larger, and as Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow said, compiled of mostly white demonstrators. Others have reported just how imbalanced gender was, with a majority being male. This isn’t to say there wasn’t diversity in the crowds. If anything, Jon Snow’s remark was a plain fact, although expressed in a perhaps too opinionated tone for broadcast news.
There were certainly flags and banners though. The UK flag flying proudly next to that of Generation Identity, the stars and stripes, and the purple pound of UKIP. The appearance of Generation Identity’s insignia highlights the ‘umbrella’ nature of Friday, mixing the widest range of Brexit supporters with a sinister far-right nationalism.
Generation Identity cast themselves as an international movement of white nationalism and far-right conservatism. The flags flown in London are a worrying sign that this prejudiced cancer is more and more accepted. Famously the Austrian leader of Generation Identity, Martin Sellner was donated €1,300 from the perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque shootings earlier this month. He also has a sizable following online.
This appearance of far-right extremism and nationalism has been a continual undercurrent of Brexit since its appearance in 2016. The convicted murderer of Labour MP Jo Cox was revealed in court to have a collection of Nazi memorabilia and to have shouted ‘Britain First’ when the attack took place. For me, this was a first sign that politics was developing its streak towards far-right hate and bigotry.
In the evening of Friday’s protest, scenes turned more aggressive as protestors attacked journalists and members of the public. MPs and Westminster staff had already revealed they had struggled with angry protestors on the day. SNP MP Joanna Cherry described in the Commons of a ‘mob’ outside. As media and interviews for all major Brexit broadcasts is housed on College Green, MPs and staff are bombarded by protestors and heckles as they walk over the road. It may be a simple point, but for public figures having to run this gauntlet is dangerous.
One scene in particular showed a distressing scene of a Channel 4 News crew attacked by protestors. The main culprit shouts ‘Channel 4’ repeatedly which only brings more trouble to the crew. Journalists are under constant stress in Brexit Britain. It is a danger only exacerbated by the continuing political crisis.
Another video captured police officers tackling a smaller gathering of protesters, but were subjected to cascading abuse and intimidation. The protestors in question followed the standard dress code of the demonstration: UK memorabilia to make a football riot blush. It’s an honest comparison. The white male presence, with cans of booze flailing, turned Whitehall into White Hart Lane.
These scenes reveal a truly disturbing climate of fear and extremism. It’s not true to say Brexit is the sole cause of this climate, but as a vehicle Brexit has provided the far-right with ammunition for a dangerous social conflict. The language of hate, the ‘traitors’ and ‘will of the people’, all harnessed by an extremism.
As author and journalist Will Self argued to hard-Brexiter MP Mark Francois (with a pathetic stare-down), it’s wrong to say all Leavers are racists and bigots. It’s a lie. But it’s undoubted that racists and bigots are Leavers.
For politicians to accept this result without addressing the blindingly obvious evidence of far-right extremism, is a democratic crime in itself. Brexit is a self-sufficient ecosystem of lies, bigotry, and nationalism. And whatever comes of Brexit, whichever path politicians make us walk – the UK is no longer united, and Britain certainly isn’t great.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)