The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that he was to prorogue Parliament, leaving MPs barely any time to stop a no-deal Brexit on Halloween. Since then, the mood has transformed, and people have taken to the streets.
First published in September 2019.
There are plenty of words I could use to describe the scenes of Saturday’s protests. I could very easily fall into the Brexiter trap, and spin the scenes into a wartime analogy. ‘Freedom is in peril; defend it with all your might’ – sounds reasonable, sounds profound. But to compare these demonstrations to the past would only weaken their intentions to change our path. For the first time since the Brexit referendum, there’s a mood of anger and outrage, not just frustration.
I couldn’t attend any of the protests, much to my shame. Following the day’s proceedings on Twitter and the news is never the same as feeling the groundswell on the streets. Protesters were eager to update on how widespread the day’s anger was. From Cornwall to the Scottish Islands, as far as Riga and Malaga, and in every nation of the UK.
The good people behind Stop The Coup began compiling this map from Wednesday, and since have created a website and brand identity. It’s an incredible picture. These protests weren’t just in the places we come to expect of anti-Brexit activism. London-centric, it was not. How about Middlesbrough, or Doncaster; both Leave strongholds in 2016. Bournemouth, St Albans, King’s Lynn – twee Southern England locales hosting booing and shouting crowds.
This was on Thursday in Cheltenham; another unexpected host to anti-prorogation anger. It went viral. To see a Conservative MP presented with an angry crowd outside their constituency office is nothing short of revolutionary. Notice too the change in approach by the protesters here. Confrontational, direct, wanting answers. They weren’t moving until Alex Chalk, the MP in question, was put to rights for supporting prorogation. Chalk attempts to view the issue more broadly, of customs unions and red lines. That’s where it has changed – it’s not about Brexit anymore, it’s a mere sideshow to this coup.
Here’s a great thread sharing pictures from protests across the UK. The placards are the best sign of a difference. Last year in the October march, the focus was Remain and a second referendum. Now: it’s anti-prorogation, Boris memes, pro-democracy. While the presence of the anti-Brexit activism was certainly prominent, you can’t deny that a wider phonebook was deployed to get the protests packed. Labour Party and trade union activists were flying their red flags, a perfect day for it I might add. For once, there was unity across the divisions that have plagued the anti-Brexit message for months.
It was comforting to see opposition MPs on the trail and making speeches in town centres. The heavy hitters such as John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas were eager to invigorate their respective crowds with the fervour needed to keep up the protesting spirit. But in smaller towns, with smaller though no less significant protests, opposition MPs took to the microphones and spoke out against the tyranny of prorogation. Angela Smith and Louise Haigh spoke in Sheffield, steely and determined against Boris Johnson.
Something has finally changed. We were holding on for months for that old slogan to collapse – and now it has, with a crash. There’s momentum behind this vehicle of protest. MPs are pledging to hold an ‘alternative parliament’ should the prorogation go ahead. The legal challenge against prorogation is now cross-party backed, with John Major taking on the state. Yes, you read that right. A Tory former Prime Minister is taking his Tory government to court. More protests are planned, legislation is being drafted. And after a firestorm of bickering and politicking, there’s a covenant of unity: the Church House Declaration, a pub quiz answer in the making.
Oh and the weight of power in Johnson’s government is heavily tipped to the Cummings machine, as the unauthorised sacking of Sajid Javid’s advisor has shown. A James Bond villain eager to make enemies.
Next week, MPs will return to their offices in London. Opposition MPs and anti-no-dealers will enter the Commons sceptical of the coming storm. There’s little time to stop the crash. But after the events since Wednesday, and an inspiring display of force across the UK and Europe, they’ll sit on the green benches with more than just determination.
Something has changed – there’s hope, however little it may be.🔷
Share this article now: