Normal pro-Brexit supporters joined by large numbers of far right activists in central London
The UK was scheduled to leave the European Union at 11 o’clock this evening but instead of Brexiteers coming together to celebrate, two separate pro-Brexit protests took place as the battle over Brexit continued in Parliament.
Roughly 5,000 activists from across the UK travelled to the capital for two separate demonstrations in Westminster that were heavy with talk of ‘traitors’ and ‘betrayal’, as Brexiteers struggle to grapple with the challenges they face in winning the ‘no deal’ exit from the EU they’ve been demanding.
One event, organised by Nigel Farage, was the endpoint for the widely mocked and sparsely attended ‘March to Leave’. The other, organised by Stephen Yaxley Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and UKIP was called ‘Make Brexit Happen’.
The fact that there were two distinct demonstrations is
Farage’s Leave Means Leave demonstration occupied Westminster Square and drew the bulk of the crowds, while Lennon’s smaller-but-angrier event was 200 yards up Whitehall. That said, the demonstrations were so close that there was often little distinction between the two events.
Farage Pulls Bigger Crowds
By virtue of being in Parliament square and the more mainstream of the two demonstrations, the bigger crowds gathered in front of the Leave Means Leave stage to see speakers including Labour MP Kate Hoey, talkRADIO broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer, former co-chair of Leave.EU Richard Tice, co-founder of Leave Means Leave John Longworth and Ian Paisley Jnr.
The biggest cheers of the evening was saved for Farage himself who graced the stage at 17:15 and spoke briefly in the evening sun.
Joining many everyday and non-extreme pro-Brexit supporters were well known far-right activists, including Mick Brooks of the extreme far-right London Forum and a contingent of Generation Identity activists who had orchestrated a banner drop over Waterloo bridge earlier in the day to no-fanfare whatsoever.
The speeches on the Leave Mean Leaves stage were completed by 17:45.
The turnout of the event indicates there is a potential pool of support for Farage’s Brexit Party, which is gearing up to contest a potential snap election and the May European Elections, in the event the UK participates in them. However, the party has already gotten off to a shaky start, after its leader, Catherine Blaiklock, was forced to resign after anti-Muslim statements were revealed by HOPE not hate.
Just a few hundred yards up the road, with their own stage was the UKIP/Tommy event which saw speeches by UKIP leader Gerard Batten, Lord Pearson, and Janice Atkinson as well as Lennon himself.
The event encapsulated what many see as the issue with UKIP – the fact that much of its energies have been spent on hero worshipping Lennon rather than achieving Brexit. The demo took the bizarre step of showing an hour-long documentary about Lennon, which served to dissipate much of the energy from the event early on. Many speakers spent much of their time calling for Lennon to stand for UKIP at upcoming elections.
When news of the vote over the Withdrawal Agreement inside parliament reached the crowds in the afternoon, disquiet spread fast and Lennon came to the stage and said:
“So Theresa May has lost her vote. Many people will be asking what does that even mean. It means we were betrayed. Today is supposed to be our Independence Day.”
While smaller, the UKIP stage was more angry with speeches from the influence of YouTubers Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) and a dangerously extreme speech by Richard Inman from Veterans Against Terrorism who blasted ‘traitor’ politicians and invoked the beheading of King Charles I.
Lennon returned to the stage just after 6pm and unsurprisingly gave a speech primarily about himself. He also passionately called politicians ‘traitors’ and declared “Your representatives are betraying you. […] We voted for culture. We voted for identity”.
He also took time to attack Farage as “part of the establishment” and encouraged those present to join Batten’s UKIP. He also asked the crowd “would you like to see me stand in a parliamentary election for UKIP” to which the crowd erupted into chants of “oh Tommy Tommy”.
While the numbers of both demonstrations were smaller than many expected, there was a palpable anger in the crowds with much of the rhetoric being about “betrayal” and “traitors”. It now seems that Lennon is planning to try and harness this anger to run in an upcoming election.