I was there. Saying Goodbye to Prorogued British MPs at the Gates of Parliament at 2AM on 10 September 2019.
First published in September 2019.
They came out of the big iron gate, in one by one, looking grim, dejected, sad, exhausted, desperate. The iron doors released them. We stood outside. We knew our place. We shouted in desperation.
They were the ones we could see, because they came out on foot.
On the other side of the big iron pillar, guarded by various kinds of police, some in yellow vests that shone in the dark, some in camouflage black that worked very well at 2AM, carrying military assault rifles, a much larger gate opened and closed. That was the gate for the ministerial limousines, the all but invisible holders of high office and power. The powerful men that had just closed down parliament. Occasionally a humble MP came out of there too, on a motorcycle or, like Anna Soubry, in a tiny electric car.
There were those we immediately recognised. We applauded them. I heard myself shouting, “Thank you, thank you!” after Dominic Grieve, who turned around and acknowledged our applause, smiling. I ran after Joanna Cherry who nobody recognised but who turned out, only 2 days later, to be the most important person in the UK because she was the one who brought the court case in Scotland that declared the closing down of government unlawful. I ran after her on the dark pavement, waving and shouting, “Thank you, thank you!” I hope she remembers.
It was the early morning of 10 September 2019, and Parliament had just been closed down by the Conservative minority government. At a time of (self-inflicted) crisis. For longer than in over a hundred years. By a Prime Minister who had only been in office for a few weeks and who had lost every single vote in the very parliament he had just closed down. And his majority. And who had lied to the public, and parliament. And, as it would turn out only 2 days later, who had lied to the Queen about closing parliament down.
A small group of us stood outside those iron gates in the cold night, some with beautiful EU flags they had decorated with fairy lights, some with sparkly blue umbrellas and of course the man with the megaphone who had been protesting for 2 years. Every day. Shouting “Stop Brexit!”... Steve Bray.
With them, I stood there in the darkness that had fallen on Parliament, and on democracy. I just couldn’t find it in me to go home and accept our miserable fate. I wanted to be there, I wanted to say goodbye to our democratic representatives.
The group around me was mainly made up of veterans of SODEM. They had been protesting all day already and were absolutely exhausted. After all, being an MP is largely an indoor sit-down job. Protesting, however, happens outside in all weathers (that evening there had been rain and a very cold wind rustling the beautiful EU flags with their home made illuminations). It is impossible to overstate the importance and dedication of SODEM, the daily protest outside parliament. You may have seen them in the background in TV interviews. Or heard them shouting “Stop Brexit!”. The main TV stations have resorted to building towers on College Green (the little grassy area directly opposite the Houses of Parliament) so that the daily protest is no longer so visible. They have resorted to technology to make it inaudible. But SODEM is there, every day, and more recently with an ‘evening shift’ including the 10 o’clock News. I’ve protested with them, sometimes I was protester number 3, sometimes there was a large crowd. But they were always there.
That night, I felt I had to go. It was a historic occasion.
Earlier that night, I went to the Proms, the summer series of classical concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. As always, I went up in the gallery, on an affordable ticket, where many enthusiasts stand, leaning over the banisters.
That evening’s program concluded with the highlights from Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, representing the very best of British culture, many of whom are EU citizens, played superbly. Wagner is common European heritage.
The story of this opera is, of course, all about lies, broken promises, backstabbing and, eventually, the destruction of the planet by deceitful humans.
That night, Brunhilde was sung by an EU citizen. Siegfried was British. He promised to honour his relationship with her. Then he went off and promptly betrayed her for which he was literally stabbed in the back and killed. Brunhilde was then tragically dragged into the destruction he caused. The world ended in flames.
I love tragedies. On stage.
I don’t want to live a tragedy in my real life. I don’t want to live through the end of democracy in this country. I don’t want to be dragged into the destruction that Brexit is causing.
So at the end of the concert, I walked to the District Line with hundreds of music lovers, but unlike them, did not go home to bed. I got out at Westminster and found SODEM and their EU stars, fragile, home made and bravely lighting up the gloomy sky opposite parliament. And I decided to stay until the bitter end.
Some of the MPs that came out at 2AM wearily asked us if we didn’t know what the time was. We said we did. It was the same time outside in the cold as it was inside the chambers of Parliament. We are all citizens. Others answered our desperate pleas to “Stop Brexit” with “We’re trying”. We thanked them. They had been singing inside, while Black Rod came and dragged the Speaker into prorogation. Outside, we started shouting, “Revoke Article 50!” into the dark ministerial cars, across the military assault weapons, across the iron gates.
That dark night it was hard not to feel caught up in a national tragedy. And it may still turn out to be one. The attempted coup is not over.
Two days later, the Scottish Court of Sessions (an appeal court) ruled prorogation unlawful. Joanna Cherry was smiling in sunny Edinburgh, on all channels. Telling everyone that now, the government was breaking the law “every hour that parliament is still prorogued.” Maybe now many people will recognize her, even in the dark streets around Parliament. Grieve and Starmer weighed in. A few MPs came to Parliament (the building is, weirdly, open to tourists!) and demanded that they be allowed to sit. One MP went in and sat down in the chamber in his usual spot.
At the time of writing, nobody knows what will happen now. It is ‘there be dragons territory’ says an eminent lawyer. There are dragons in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, too. It doesn’t end well for them either.
As I finally made my way home, leaving a few others still saying the long goodbye to British parliamentarians and perhaps to British democracy, I was very afraid that we might be living in that tragedy that we were fighting so hard to avoid. To turn around.
All that time, the night buses had been running past us. Red and tall. Emblems of cosmopolitan London, the city I love so much, the city that has been my home on this planet.
I walked down brightly lit Whitehall and took the first of several night buses that would carry me, too, to my bed. It wasn’t a smooth ride, but it worked.
I don’t know what will happen to this country. I don’t know what will happen to me. I have been caught in the twilight of Brexit for over three years now. I never thought I would attend the closing down of the British parliament. I never thought that I would see, finally, when it is almost too late, an attempt to fight back against the destructions of Brexit and Brexiters. (And let’s not forget that all but 50 of the parliamentarians who are now the victims of a rogue regime voted for triggering Article 50 without any form of preparation – thereby creating the cruel deadlines for Brexit that make all this possible.)
But I will never forget this night.
Maybe, one day, when all this is over, someone will write an opera about it.
I hope they put the home made stars on the fragile handheld flags in it.🔷
Share this article now: