Brexit

While convinced that the 2016 referendum was a major mistake for Britain, I still expected that any British government could implement the result in a competent and pragmatic way that most of us would eventually accept. How naive I was! Brexit supporters wouldn’t agree among themselves what Brexit was, and out of her depth as Prime Minister, Theresa May wouldn’t seek a wider consensus. With alarming speed, Brexit had made the UK an international laughing stock.

In October 2018 I went on the “People’s March” to demand a public vote on the final deal and overturn the 2016 referendum. That day’s pictures kickstarted this project on the big London marches and on the daily protests outside Parliament, which is only an hour’s walk or a quick bus ride from my home in Leafy Dulwich (78% Remain).

This is a selection of my favourites. Also see my Instagram and blog posts on Brexit which are mainly links to short YouTube videos of the more eventful days and curious moments.

The People’s March

In October 2018 around 700,000 people from all over Britain marched through central London demanding a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Beginning in Hyde Park, the march filled the streets from Park Lane to the rally in Parliament Square.

No confidence in Theresa May

Over the winter of 2018-19 Theresa May tried to convince Brexit hard-liners in her own party to support her form of Brexit, and it was around that time that I began making more frequent trips into central London to take pictures outside Parliament.

Far right thugs lurk around the legitimate pro-Brexit protesters and one evening I caught them trying to encircle Mr Stop Brexit’s car. After they had tried to intimidate the anti-Brexit MP Anna Soubry, increased policing restored the mood and allowed pro- and anti-Brexit protesters to mix and disagree in reasonable, friendly ways, and one morning I spotting the leading pro-Brexit MP Jacob Rees-Mogg stopping to talk with Mr Stop Brexit and admirers. I spent 15 minutes close to him and these photos give a fair impression of how I encountered Rees-Mogg in person. Deluded but charming, he strongly reminded me of Tony Benn.

Put it to the People March

Over the winter of 2019 a series of evening votes rejected Theresa May’s deal with the EU and forced her to delay Brexit.

On March 23 a million people marched through central London, again filling the streets from Park Lane to Parliament Square. 6 million had already signed an online petition demanding the revocation of the UK’s notice to leave the EU. A crowd-funded campaign bought advertising space such as a billboard on a collapsing building, quoting Brexit advocates’ promises. In Westminster a journalist looks out from the Sky News gazebo at flags reflected in the clear plastic window which shields its broadcasts from the noise of protesters.

March to Leave

The only big pro-Brexit protest was on March 29, 2019 which had originally been the date when Brexit would happen. I shadowed the march from Fulham through some of the capital’s most prosperous and pro-Remain areas, then moved ahead and waited for the marchers’ arrival at the rally in Parliament Square. It was just-about full and the atmosphere was mostly good-natured, though the police cordon around the media village was unusually heavy and there was a far right presence near the Cenotaph, the national war memorial, where UKIP showed a video featuring Tommy Robinson, a convicted fraudster and founder of the EDL group.

European Elections

By Spring 2019 paralysis had set in. Theresa May still couldn’t get her own side to support her deal with the EU, and a cross-party majority in the House of Commons forced her to delay Brexit again. Protests continued outside Parliament, a T Rex arrived on St George’s Day, and in Trafalgar Square a flashmob sang Ode to Joy before marching on Downing Street. Brexit’s delay meant that the European parliamentary elections had to be held on May 23 and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party was forecast to win the largest share of votes.

BJ in Number 10

After Theresa May’s resignation the Conservative Party then spent two months choosing her successor, Boris Johnson, who pledged to take Britain out of the EU by the arbitrary date of 31 October, whatever the costs. Protests greeted his arrival in Downing Street and continued outside the Cabinet Office in Whitehall where his team was planning his kamikaze Brexit during the summer recess.

Jolly japes?

What if a government, especially a minority one, could simply suspend Parliament if it couldn’t persuade MPs to agree to its policies? That’s what Johnson tried to do, and it struck me as un-British, disrespectful of our democratic tradition, and a veru dangerous precedent.

I spotted Rees Mogg just after news broke that the Scottish courts had ruled the government’s actions to be unlawful, a decision later confirmed by the UK Supreme Court -11-0.

The end

Like a turkey voting for Christmas, Jeremy Corbyn agreed to fight a general election at a time of his opponent’s choosing. But in the dog-friendly, 78% Remain, safe Labour seat of Dulwich there was little evidence of anything happening – I reckon it’s 27 years since my vote made any difference. Thanks to the UK’s broken electoral system, Boris Johnson‘s 43.6% of the popular vote became a majority government with 56% of the Parliamentary seats. By chance I saw him on the way to Buckingham Palace, and I was there when Parliament returned.