Demonstrators from across the country assembled on Park Lane in central London to march against Brexit, and Boris Johnson’s likely move into No 10, and for a second Brexit referendum.
At first sight, the message of the “No to Boris, yes to Europe” march, taking place three days before Johnson is expected to be crowned Tory leader, seemed to be unambiguous.
The mood was cheerful, with people dressed up as Johnson, a Nigel Farage on stilts, and EU flags painted on faces. One man played the bagpipes.
But there were major schisms underlying the harmony. Speaking to demonstrators, it was clear that there is no consensus regarding the goal of the People’s Vote campaign – and the march.
Jackie, in her 40s, and daughter Poppy, 12, travelled from Bournemouth to join the crowd. It was their fourth anti-Brexit march.
“This does feel like a remain campaign,” Jackie said, “and we are definitely remainers and want to stop Brexit. But it should probably be a neutral campaign for a second referendum. It’s ridiculous to think anyone still knows what the people want, they need to be asked again.”
Tania Nolan, 55, a scientist, and Colin Paton, 59, from Suffolk, agreed. “This should be a democratic campaign, people should make a free decision in a second referendum,” Nolan said.
Paton wants “a remainer-led government”, but also feels the People’s Vote leaders should be clamouring for a second vote, not necessarily for remain.
“I’m an idealist, I wish people would make evidence-based decisions again. That’s what this march is about,” Nolan said
But Mick O’Malley, 71, from Gloucester, clad in a cape made from an EU flag, had a different view. “This is an anti-Johnson march, which means it’s anti-Brexit. There might be a bit of ‘for a second ref only’ in this, this is a broad church, but I know why I’m here today,” he said.
John Arnold, 49, a volunteer and street campaigner for People’s Vote from Cheshire, said: “Look at the crowd, this is a remain march, anyone who pretends otherwise is simply disingenuous.
“I’ve got lots of leave voters to sign up to the second referendum petition in Cheshire, but I’d be very surprised to see them here.”
Anti-Brexit campaigner Shola Mos-Shogbamimu acknowledged the confusion as she opened the stage at Parliament Square: “I want to make sure you know why you are here, I’m not sure you do!
“When I say ‘Boris’, you say ‘No!’”, she chanted. “We are staying in, we are staying in, so what!” The crowd obliged.
The remain campaigner Mike Galsworthy addressed the crowd, seemingly aiming to do away with any ambiguity about the nature of this march. “Why ‘No to Boris’? He’s infantile, these people are not fit to lead.
“Bigger than Boris is Europe, and that’s our future. Put Brexit in the bin, set the bin alight!” he said.
The Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Ed Davey was among those attending.
Before the march, a Boris Johnson toddler blimp, featuring salmon-pink skin, the politician’s trademark faux-dishevelled hairstyle, mismatched running gear and a Brexit-bus T-shirt, was launched in Parliament Square.
The singer Billy Bragg and presenter Sandi Toksvig were expected to join the march.
Bragg tweeted that he would be “singing a few songs” in Parliament Square as part of the demonstration.
Speaking before the march, Toksvig said she was taking part because she believed “passionately” in the European project. “Some of the enormous political issues we face today – the climate emergency, cybercrime, violence against women and girls – are truly global; we cannot fight them alone, and we cannot fight them outside of Europe.”