Protest against the consequences of the EU Referendum result. Saturday 2 July, Park Lane to Parliament Square.
After the toxic storm of events following the result of the EU Referendum, with politicians of both major parties queuing up to stab each other in private and public, the March for Europe, organised entirely on social media, could have reflected the ugly mood of national politics.
Not a bit of it.
A good-humoured crowd, which even low estimates put at 40,000, shuffled from Park Lane to Parliament Square, exuding a mix of hope, gallows humour and good old-fashioned British profanity.
Home-made banners, competing for humour honours, have become de rigueur on protest marches, from high-quality laser prints to felt pen on cardboard. March for Europe banners included the simple “We love EU”; the poetic “The people have the power to redeem the work of fools” (Patti Smith); the humorous “Now I know how the pig felt”; and the directly instructive “GOve fuck yourself”.
Many held EU flags, the yellow circle of stars on a blue field. Some held French bread. Your correspondent, along with several others, was handed a sunflower.
Why a sunflower? Well why not?
Half way down Piccadilly the crowd started chanting “Fromage not Farage!” They were quickly joined by the French stick-wielders shouting “Baguettes, not regrets!” Protest is picnic: discuss.
At Parliament Square, the crowd were regaled with speeches from the likes of Owen Jones and Bob Geldof. They cheered, they clapped, they sat in the sun, they wondered what happens next. They drifted away and retired to the pub.
A bit like real Parliament, then, but without scandalous expense claims.
As this event was conceived and organised on social media, that was where Leavers expressed their displeasure with it.
Leavers say that the protesters are sore losers who are marching against Democracy (with a capital D), against the will of the people as expressed in the referendum.
Of course, protest is part of democracy, so that argument is null and void.
Furthermore, protesting Remainers argue, Leavers voted on the basis of a giant deception. None of the things Leavers voted for can be delivered.
Money from EU membership will not be available for the NHS.
Immigration will not be reduced because the UK will not be able to trade with the rest of the EU without free movement of people.
The sovereignty they want to “take back” is phantom – there is no absolute sovereignty in our interconnected, globalised world.
And Muslims, dear Barnsley resident, will not be deported. But then if you had ears with a brain located between them, you would have known that was never up for grabs.
So what happens now?
I’ll caveat my answers with this: I am not a lawyer; I have an O level in British Constitution from 1976.
Britain can’t leave the EU without invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the process of a member leaving the EU.
To do that probably requires an act of parliament which simultaneously revokes the European Communities Act 1972, which is the legislation that binds the UK into the EU.
So whoever becomes the next prime minister has to command a large enough majority in the Commons to pass such a bill. There is not a majority of MPs who want Britain to leave the EU. There isn’t even a majority of Tory MPs who want to leave. And that doesn’t account for what the House of Lords may do to such a bill.
Britain is a representative democracy, not an absolute democracy. The referendum result is not legally binding. MPs are obliged (although not compelled) to act in the best interests of citizens.
Given the economic and social damage the referendum has already inflicted, and the vast disruption actually leaving would inflict, that presents MPs and their new Prime Minister an invidious choice.
If they act in the best interests of citizens, they won’t ever pull the trigger on Article 50 and Britain will remain in the EU. But then the MPs and the PM will have to explain to the 52% of the population who voted leave that their vote has been ignored.
Nigel Farage will turn to foam.
Civil unrest is likely to follow.
If the MPs and PM bow to the will of the slender majority and invoke Article 50, they will trash the economy long-term and cement the social divisions in Britain for generations.
The negotiators will likely end up with a Norway-style deal whereby Britain retains trade with the EU but has to pay into the EU budget, has no say over European legislation which we must adopt to continue trading, and accepts free movement of people – the very immigration Leavers voted against.
Then MPs will have to explain to Leavers why they can’t have what they voted for, and explain to Remainers why they live in a much-diminished Britain.
Civil unrest is likely to follow.
History tells us that governments mostly tick over complacently, and act on the biggest of issues only when civil unrest ensues or is imminent.
So the question is, in which scenario are people likely to kick off the worst?