‘Beautiful movement’ draws record crowd from across the UK to demand Final Say

Colin Drury

Looking out from the stage at an estimated half a million people crammed into Parliament Square, Caroline Lucas summed things up. “What a beautiful sight you are,” the former Green Party leader beamed. “And what a beautiful movement you’ve made.”

Only the churlish could have argued.

This was the climax of Saturday’s People’s Vote march: Some 670,000 people from across the UK – young and old, men and women, Delia Smith – gathered on a beautiful day in London to ask for just one thing: to be asked again.

Their demand was for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. And if sheer enthusiasm alone was enough to alter the course of national politics, then the crowd's desired outcome seemed guaranteed.

“What could be more democratic, what could be more British,” asked London Mayor Sadiq Khan during his five-minute speech, “than adjusting with the judgement of the British people?”

The sheer numbers who arrived surprised organisers. They expected in the region of 100,000. In the end – partly inspired by The Independent’s Final Say campaign – Parliament Square was simply not big enough to hold all those who came. They overflowed into surrounding streets. Some were unable to even make it that far.

Long after the speakers took to the stage, thousands were still marching to get there. “I never saw the speeches,” demonstrator Linda Rice, from Leicester, told The Independent afterwards. “There were so many people on the march, it took us longer than expected: We could hardly move. I think that’s a good sign though, isn’t it? I think that’s definitely a positive. This is what we want.”

The organisers were certainly delighted with the turnout.

The Independent editor Christian Broughton addresses the crowd in Parliament Square (AFP/Getty)

“Theresa May says a Final Say referendum would be a politician’s vote, not a people’s vote,” Christian Broughton, editor of The Independent, told the crowd. “From where I’m standing this looks like a people’s vote to me.

“When we started our Final Say campaign in July, our politics team hoped we might get 20,000 signatures. Well, this morning we had 940,000 – and I’ve got a feeling that number is going to keep on getting bigger.”

It did. It was 946,000 within a couple of hours.

“It is clear: we are the many," said Conservative MP and final speaker Anna Soubry. “We are winning the argument … we will take responsibility and sort out this mess."

Most of those who spoke on stage – which also included Chuka Umunna and Vince Cable, along with a quartet of students from the four countries of the UK – riffed on the same theme: that Britain would be poorer out of the EU, that the original referendum was built on lies, that Boris Johnson is little more than a self-interested chancer.

But perhaps the best arguments and sound bites came from the people in the crowd. They waved flags – EU mainly, a few Union Jacks, a surprising number of Tricolores – along with placards and good humour.

“Nan, I love you but U but U R wrong about Brexit," read one banner, hinting at the generational differences between voters. “Your life will be boring without our cute accents,” said another, carried by Sofia Tsekoura, from Greece.

Almost 700,000 people turned out for the march through central London (AFP/Getty Images)

“I love this country,” said Ms Tsekoura, an IT consultant who has lived in London for six years. “I don’t want to have to leave my home and friends here but, more than that, I don’t want you guys to be out on your own. Come on, you should be part of Europe, you’re important to the rest of us. We want you to stay because you are our friends and because we are all better off when we come together. This is the main thing. This is what’s important.”

It was a feeling echoed by many.

“I’m missing Leeds United against Blackburn for this march,” said football fan Alan Turnbull, a 46-year-old butcher from West Yorkshire.

“So that’s how much this means to me. What’s going on is an utter shambles. The country is going to be poorer, weaker and more isolated for decades if we just plough on with what the government is doing.

“And it won’t be Jacob Rees-Mogg or Nigel Farage or any of those lads who suffer, it will be people like me – working blokes struggling away. And it will be my children. It’s their generation who will have to deal with the aftermath.”

Others had come further than Yorkshire. Northern Irish accents could be heard everywhere – perhaps a sign of concern about the consequences of Brexit for the country's border. And one of the 150 coaches that travelled to London was from the Highlands and islands of Scotland. “You must have set off before the referendum itself,” quipped stage compare Mariella Frostrup.

Giuseppe Bignardi and wife Margherita Di Marco had come from not much nearer – Durham, where the couple have lived for 35 years. They are Italian originally but have dual citizenship. He is a consultant with the NHS, while she is a retired teacher.

“Two of my colleagues – from Germany – have already left the hospital where I work,” said Mr Bignardi, 62, in an accent about 75 per cent Italian, 25 per cent pure North East. “This is a direct result of Brexit. This is a brain drain already in action.

“I won’t personally leave. After all these years, this is my home. My children are virtually English. But I speak as a concerned citizen – this will damage the country. The people need to be asked again – now you know the facts – the damage to the NHS, to jobs, to communities. Are you sure this is what we want to do?

“I don’t say that Brexit will be a catastrophe. This is the UK, it will always find a way. But it will make life harder for millions of people. Is this what we want?”

A protest vote that went wrong is how Robert McMasters, a 58-year-old accountant from Reading, described the 2016 referendum result.

“I know one person who voted Brexit literally so politicians could no longer blame the EU for when things go wrong,” he said. “That’s the only reason she came to this huge decision. It was a protest.

“And, of course, the reason why people made that protest needs to be addressed. We need huge structural change here. But the way to do that is not by driving your country off a cliff. You don’t do it by destroying your country for a generation.”

But it may have been a person who was not physically there who seemed to capture the mood. Gary Lineker sent his support with a video message.

“How many times in life do we say with hindsight we would have done something differently?” he asked. “With this we would have that chance. We must take it.”