A coachload of Bath for Europe supporters travelled to Exeter for the South West March & Rally on Saturday, 24th March. The event was one of many around the UK being held between 23rd – 26th March to mark the anniversary of the triggering of Article 50. Peter Sturdgess of the event hosts Devon for Europe estimated that the 1,700 marchers were joined with additional protestors, swelling the total number of participants to 2,500 people. The Great Northern March in Leeds attracted a far bigger turnout.
Not for the first time, the BBC and other major news outlets failed to provide coverage of the pro-Remain events. Twitter was awash with posts about the protests and lack of media attention. For instructions on how to complain to the BBC, visit their complaints page.
The Exeter event attracted groups from all around the South West: from Cornwall, Dorset, West Dorset, Salisbury, Bath, Bristol, Somerset, Cheltenham and Swindon. The activists gathered at Belmont Park and marched with banners and placards to Bedford Square, Princesshay, in the heart of the shopping district. On the march there were banners from the Lib Dems, Labour, Greens, Women’s Equality Party and Quakers for Europe. The rally attracted a small but vocal group of pro-Leave supporters; some of our people engaged them in a polite debate.
The Bath crew met up with friends and fellow activists from Bristol for Europe and Swindon for Europe. The Original Bath Berets proved hugely popular and the crowd was dotted with them. Our brilliant Boris banknotes met with a positive response.
Tim Skeet of Britain for Europe welcomed everyone to the rally. The crowd heard from elected representatives from across the political spectrum, Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw (Labour), Bath MP Wera Hobhouse (Lib Dem) and three MEPs – Molly Scott Cato (Green Party), Claire Moody (Labour) and Julie Girling (formerly Conservative, now Independent). The messages they conveyed were clear: Brexit would be hugely destructive and the people must have a final say on the deal.
“Brexit is not inevitable and there is still a lot to play for,” Wera Hobhouse said in advance of the march and rally. “The DUP-backed Tory government is tying itself into knots over issues like the Irish border and fisheries. All the people in this country who are unhappy with where Brexit is going need to rally together and fight. We will not stop Brexit without a fight but our country’s future is worth fighting for. Politicians won’t change Brexit, but the people can. We need a referendum on the deal. It is the only democratic way out of Brexit. The people must finish what the people have started.”
There were several young speakers who represented different perspectives on what they and their generation would stand to lose from Brexit. These included Thomas Haynes of Labour Youth; students from Exeter Uni James Dart, Brixie Berisha and Vashti Miller; farmer Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, who became very emotional talking about the farm that her family has managed for five generations, and Sam Hickmott of Bristol for Europe.
The plight of EU citizens in the UK was represented by passionate, personal speeches by Bath residents Véronique and Miles Martin. Véronique is co-editor of In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK. Karolina Borkowska-Knight told the crowd that she finds herself refraining from speaking Polish to her young daughters in public.
The event underlined the importance of getting people out on the streets to demonstrate that we demand a final say on what happens to our country. We must work much harder to make the growing shift in public opinion against Brexit far more visible.