Nick Clegg tells EU march there is a 'perpetual sense of anger' over Brexit

Dan Roberts and Chris Johnston

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of central London on Saturday to protest against Britain’s departure from the European Union, just days before Theresa May begins the process by triggering article 50.

Nick Clegg told the crowd in Parliament Square that “sadness” about the outcome of last June’s referendum had given way to “a perpetual sense of anger about the choices that Theresa May and her government have taken since”.

“It was a choice to pull us out of the customs union, it was a choice to embark on that demeaning bout of transatlantic obsequiousness,” the former Liberal Democrat leader said. He accused the prime minister of “threatening to turn our country into a bargain basement cowboy economy”.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said many people were changing their mind about Brexit.

“We’re living in a dictatorship. In democracies people are always allowed to change their minds. Over the coming months and years we will fight. Labour needs to rediscover its mojo, and quickly,” he said.

The former Downing Street director of communications Alastair Campbell told protesters: “I know I am in a minority in thinking Brexit can be stopped, but I’m not in a minority in thinking that it should be.”

He appealed to the Remain movement not to give up: “When you see a car heading toward a cliff, you don’t keep driving ... keep fighting to keep Britain in Europe.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron cemented his growing role as the political leader of the Remain movement, with a well-received address that claimed to speak not just for the 48% who voted against Brexit – but also many of those who voted for it.

Nick Clegg speaks at the Unite for Europe rally in central London. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

“We are here to show solidarity and respect for those who voted leave. We do not believe they wanted this. [Theresa May] does not speak for 52%, she barely speaks for 5%,” he told the crowd.

“We are not giving up this week of all weeks. We here are as testament that we refuse to despair. Britain can be better than this.”

The tens of thousands who turned out to protest forced police to delay the start due to congestion as more coaches arrived from across the country.

“I am here to show people who are appalled at what is happening that they are not alone,” said Rachael Shermaur, a 51-year-old protester who had travelled from Devon with a sign that read “Terrorism won’t divide us but Brexit will”.

“I am not naive but I would like to remain optimistic,” she explained, when asked if Brexit could be stopped. “If there is a public protest then in some way, somehow, the message might get through to politicians.”

Organisers had called on those attending to show respect for those killed and injured in Wednesday’s attack in Westminster, but mostly this was a crowd that did not need reminding to be exceedingly polite.

Many carried yellow flowers to lay at the makeshift memorial opposite parliament. Chants of “Boris you bastard” from a woman in Trafalgar Square were drowned out by the sound of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love as the march turned into Whitehall.

One of the most aggressive signs simply read “Buck Frexit”. Another that did not swap the consonants attracted heckling from a white van stuck in nearby traffic. “You lost mate, we’re leaving” shouted another onlooker.

It was the voices of the many children on the march that brought home how all the political squabbling of the referendum looks to a younger generation. “Half British, half Italian, but 100% European,” one boy’s sign said. “Don’t put my daddy on a boat,” said another, held by a young Londoner with a Portuguese father.

“We are not in denial and we shouldn’t get over it,” added Seb Dance, a Labour MEP. “They are working for the hardest Brexit imaginable which is something they have no mandate for. It’s not us who need to confront reality. It’s the Brexiteers.”

Campaigning lawyer Jo Maugham made the point that much has changed already since the referendum. “Last year we voted in a very different world. We had no president who wanted to tear up the trade rules… or Nato. We did not know what Brexit means and we still do not know what Brexit means,” he said.

“Anyone who says they know what the popular mood is and we should give up is lying to you,” added Maugham. “What will make Brexit happen is if you give up.”

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