Last Saturday, 2 July 2016, over 100,000 people marched through central London to protest against the outcome of the recent British referendum on EU membership. Bettina Trabant reports.
The march, organised on social media, set off from Park Lane and finished in Parliament Square where people listened to a wide array of speeches, including those by Labour MP David Lammy, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, Owen Jones and Bob Geldof.
Organisers of the ‘March for Europe’ had asked participants to wear the EU colours of blue and gold and bring musical instruments, flags and banners. Many of the participants could be seen wearing EU Flags or ‘I’m In’ T-shirts. Two young women even had their face painted in the EU colours.
Protesters were heard singing the French nursery rhyme FrÃ¨re Jacques and Abba’s S.O.S. as well as shouting: “What do we want? EU! When do we want it? Now!” They came with homemade placards saying ‘Bremain’, ‘We Love EU’ and, ‘Fromage not Farage’. A few organised groups were visible: Women for Corbyn, Momentum and the Lib Dems had banners, but the majority of marchers came as individuals.
The protesters had many different motivations. Most, however, were united in their frustration at the outcome of the 23 June referendum which voted 48% to 51% to leave the EU. Some wanted to overturn the referendum result by calling a second referendum and asking the government not to trigger Article 50 that would start the process of Brexit, while others wanted to show solidarity with migrants living in Britain and protest against the racism whipped up during the referendum campaign.
This was not a left wing or labour movement march. The tone was broadly liberal and many marchers clearly held what we would consider illusory ideas about what the EU represents and has done for British people. Nevertheless many would have been receptive to the message of ‘no to racism, yes to migrants, no to neoliberal Europe, yes to a Europe of the people’.
Despite uncritical attitudes towards the EU I believe it is important for the left to be represented because the only way to influence the outcome of Brexit and shift the emphasis from the racist, right wing agenda of Gove, May and Farage is to work with other people to build a mass movement against racism, for freedom of movement and for a better society in or outside Europe.
While revolutionary socialists need to engage with forces to the right of us, we also need to ask questions and discuss how to do this. How do we separate anti-racist and pro-free movement of labour politics from pro-EU politics? How do we ensure that anti-racist politics are not monopolised by those that see the EU as a beacon for anti-racism? How do we relate to pro-EU liberals who don’t see austerity as an underlying problem? What should be our response to those that say Corbyn did not campaign enthusiastically enough for Remain? These are these vital issues of the moment.