People's Vote March: 700,000 People Take To London's Streets In UK's Biggest Ever Anti-Brexit Protest

Isabel Togoh

Nearly 700,000 demonstrators descended on central London to demand a second EU referendum - making it the UK’s biggest ever protest against Brexit.

Organisers People’s Vote estimated the record turnout, which followed a week of battling over Brexit in Brussels and Westminster.

The march saw politicians across the divide appeal for a final say on the terms on leaving the European Union.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan joined Tory MPs Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, Labour MP Chuka Umunna and a number of celebrity faces including Dragons Den investor, Deborah Meaden.

Aerial images showed gridlocked streets and a much larger crowd than a similar People’s Vote rally in Westminster on June 23 this year.

With the autumn sun glinting down, protesters young and old marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square to make their voices heard, five months before Britain ceases to become a member of the bloc. 

HuffPost UK spoke to a few of the demonstrators, some of which had very close ties to Europe. 

“It was the lowest point for me in my life, politically.” 

Fiona Feather

Self-employed Fiona Feather cried on the day of the referendum result.

Holding a placard which read “vote of facts not fiction”, she told HuffPost UK: “I thought carefully about my reasons for coming and really this is why I’ve got this placard - I felt when we had the referendum, that we just did not have the information.

“I was really disappointed with the politicians on both sides about what they said [during the campaign]. It was the lowest point for in me in my life, politically - it really is. I’m not terribly political but I found it dispiriting in the end the result for me was very upsetting and I cried - I was so shocked.

“I’m not sure that anything can change at this point but I still feel I want to say I’m not giving up.

“The biggest thing is I just don’t think anyone has thought it through. I’m really concerned about business, actually. The people who will really be affected are people on lower incomes, people will lose their jobs, they will have to move jobs.”

“The first referendum wasn’t very democratic.”

Dorette Engi

Standing alongside Feather was Dorette Engi, a retired child psychotherapist who moved to the UK from Switzerland 40 years ago. 

“I think the first referendum wasn’t very democratic - I think it was very emotionally driven. There wasn’t enough time to think about it and it was a yes or no - there was no subtlety or in between,” she said.

“I think it was also driven on fear and not expected to go through.

“This underswell of discontent which people weren’t aware off and that has come out and I think this needs to be looked out and sorted but I don’t think leaving Europe is the solution.

“I am very worried about the right wing.Just for the life of London and England, as a foreigner, I would really, really like us to stay in the EU. And Europe is close!”

“If we’re leaving the EU, I’m moving to Mars.”

Bo Fowler

Among a chanting crowd stood Bo Fowler, a teacher dressed as a martian whose placard read: “If we’re leaving the E.U., I’m moving to Mars”.

For him, a planetary move is now a “serious political option” to escape Brexit, and with the emergence of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, of which he is a fan.

He said: “I think Brexit is a terrible decision, I think it’s hardly a sufficient majority for such a radical decision, and I think it should be reconsidered. The idea that we’re gonna do it anyway is ideological, it’s crazy, and I have children and I don’t want them to have to repair the damage that we’re about to do.

“It’s just a disaster - biggest political error of my generation.

“I’ve lived here my entire life, but I feel European - and I don’t want to be told that I’m just a member of the UK. It’s retrograde, it’s just the dumbest idea ever and it brings the chance of war closer, really. It’s costing us already billions.

“And I do think Mars is a serious political option now - there is a chance we could start again and stop making the same mistakes over and over.”

“We are concerned as international students.”

(L-R) Lamija Balta, Madinah Javed and Emina Krnic 

International students Lamija Balta and Emina Krnić and graduate Madinah Javed are concerned that opportunities for them to work in the UK may disappear after they complete their degrees next year.

Balta and Krnić, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, told HuffPost UK: “For international students it makes a difference if Brexit is in the country and we would have more opportunity to stay here to do internships and to work.

“At that [referendum] moment, we weren’t planning to come here, but when we applied and we got it, we had some concerns about the situation for us as students.

Emina added: “I’m concerned that other areas of the country may not be aware of the benefits of being in the EU.”

Law graduate Madinah, originally from Scotland, said: “For me, as a law student, and studying EU law, we have an insight into the legislation and the benefits that we have from the EU and knowing that information makes an impact on the design me and my friends made to remain. We need to make sure we’re educated and informed and get the facts before we vote.

“Even if we look at freedom of movement, freedom of trade - we have so many benefits - are we just going to throw that away? It’s really important for us to be here.”

“The fear of the unknown has made me come here today.”

David Achakobe

On a wall near Parliament Square sat David Achakobe, a French citizen who has been in the UK for twenty years.

As an employee at a French car manufacturer, he is concerned about what Brexit could mean for his job and future location.

“We don’t know where we stand. The uncertainty is the biggest problem,” he said.

“I think Brexit is a very bad thing. For trade, for the people, it’s going to cause a lot of problems. I can’t understand why the powers that be can’t see what’s coming.

“I recently came back from Luxembourg and word from out the already, is that people are already withdrawing from doing business in the UK. There’s a chance to stop this because it’s going to cause a huge problem.”

He added: “We don’t know if we will need Visas, if we will need residence permits or anything. That fear of the unknown has made me come here today. If I knew back then, we would have voted remain. But we didn’t think [Brexit] would happen.”

“There’s already a massive brain drain from London.”

(L-R) Jackie Godfrey, Hanna Godfrey, Henry Godfrey, Mike Godfrey

The Godfrey family, made up of Mike, Jackie, their son Henry and his wife, Hanna, each feel separate yet direct impacts of the impending departure from the EU.

Hanna, an academic originally from the Netherlands, is worried about an exodus of researchers from the UK, and the racist encounter recently experienced by a friend, which she fears could become more common.

“I’ve been living in London over four years so I should be alright to get settled status, but I really think it’s a shambles the whole way that it’s happened. People voted under false pretences and I think that’s just not acceptable and that’s why I’m here today.

“Academia is massively affected by it - there’s already a massive brain drain from London and people are all going back to the EU because the future is so uncertain. In terms of science it’s a massive blow. If there wasn’t anything tying me to London, I would definitely have gone because it makes you feel very unwelcome.

“One of my friends was recently told: “We voted out so can’t you just go” - things like that are just absurd.

Mike, a retired teacher, said: “I don’t agree with referendums anyway - we should never have had the first one because we live in a parliamentary democracy.

Henry echoed his sentiment and added: “There is a problem around having referendums on complicated issues - I could see on something like gay marriage, it’s very clear yes or no whether you support that. With leaving the EU, nobody knows what that means.

“Having an other referendum would be better but I’ve come here to show that I am dissatisfied with Brexit. Brexit is divisive, its problematic economically, and there are an awful lot of problems to come.”

For mum Jackie, it is a fear that travel could become more complicated after next March: “I’ve got a flat in Spain and I don’t want to spend ages trying to get there!

“For young people, I think their life is more in Europe than it is here, so I’m very against us leaving. I couldn’t believe that people voted to live so I think we ought to have a people’s vote just to see if this is actually what we want.”

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