When it comes to the fine art of protests, youth has the XR factor

Susannah Butter

A Brexiteer, a Remainer and an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protester walk into Parliament Square. This isn’t the start of a comedy routine but a scene I saw yesterday when I counted three distinct protests between Westminster and Millbank.

The Brexiteer hovered at the edges, England flag wrapped around him for protection. His mates had been put off joining him because they don’t like XR — “they’re unpredictable,” he scoffed. “They think the world is going to end.” Finally we’ve found a way to deter Brexiteers — talk about carbon emissions. A fellow Brexiteer, in a Free Tibet T-shirt, said XR assumed she was in their gang because of her outfit. She was aghast.

This is one thing that Brexiteers and Remainers agreed on. A man in a EU flag beret said XR was chaotic (but he couldn’t fault their demands and was impressed by “that Scandi lass”, or Greta Thunberg, as she is also known). He boasted that they were better friends with the police than XR — he helps park their cars.

XR were the biggest presence, and the most tolerant. They clearly explained their demand that the Government pass legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. It’s simple and achievable — especially compared to Brexit — and surely would be easy for Theresa May to back, providing a boost to her popularity. I met two protesters from Penzance in their 40s who had been arrested for camping illegally on Waterloo Bridge. They’d never broken the law before and were calm, saying how kind the police had been.

It mattered to them that their rebellion didn’t feel like a blockade but was for everyone. Far from being the shambles described by the Brexiteer, XR is a tightly organised movement, stretching across the country. The no-alcohol-or-drugs policy is strict — if they go to the pub they won’t camp out that night. Yet the knee-jerk reaction to them has been hostile, dismissing them as middle-class hippies. Why shouldn’t the middle class believe in causes? Baiting them falls into the trap that people like Nigel Farage (who went to Dulwich College) use to win over the working class — turning the middle class into scapegoats.

Yesterday, both Brexiteers and Remainers appeared threatened by this new force. XR has tapped into support that mainstream political parties can only dream of. Young people care more about their cause than Brexit. So don’t be like the Brexiteers and avoid them — you won’t succeed.

I think I quite dig this new breed of Cornish activist

Nationalism begins young. On the beach in St Ives I overheard two children discuss Cornish independence. “Cornwall is its own country,” declared one, brandishing his bucket and spade. The other disagreed — you don’t need a passport to go from Paddington to Porthmeor.

Debate moved onto Irish, Scottish, Welsh and even London independence. Red-faced, the Cornish rights crusader threw down his spade, unable to think of a comeback to points about language and culture. I feared for the future of the dam they were building in the sand but they made up and dug on in silence. Whatever the status of Cornwall, an infrastructure project healed this divide.

Meghan’s timely absence

Meghan Markle (AP)

The universe has smiled on the Duchess of Sussex. When Donald Trump visits the UK in June she will be on maternity leave, so exempt from having to meet him.

It’s a lucky escape. She can watch from home as the rest of the royal family greet Donald with a forced smile. If I had a baby I’d want to protect it from Trump too.

It may’ve been interesting to see how Trump would have handled his fellow American — Meghan campaigned for Hillary Clinton to be President — but undoubtedly them not meeting is his loss.

Asking Alexa to get off iPads is bizarre

Instead of going zero tolerance on phones and banning social media, like Nicole Kidman has for her daughters, Silicon Valley’s smart set are deploying the very tech they are addicted to in easing digital detox. “Behavioural design expert” Nir Eyal told me he let his 10-year-old daughter set her own boundaries for iPad use. She programmed Alexa to tell her when to step away from the iPad. Now I just have to stop looking at Instagram long enough to learn how to use Alexa. It’s exhausting.