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Why Thousands Of Brexit Protesters Took To The Streets Yesterday

Samuel & Hannah.
If you tuned into Channel 4 News last night, you might have been confused by what you saw. A slightly taken-aback Jon Snow attempted to conduct an interview on air while thousands of protesters outside Westminster chanted Remain slogans and waved EU flags. The faces in the crowd were mostly young, observed Snow, and they looked angry.

This demonstration of support for Britain staying in the EU was not mistimed but reactionary; like other similar marches that have taken place over the last couple of days, like the online petitions calling for a second referendum, like London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s statements that he wants to keep London involved in the EU, people are fighting for a way to undo what was done last Friday – the day just over half of British voters decided in favour of a Brexit.

Crowds assembled at Trafalgar Square from 5pm yesterday, standing in thick rain and holding signs that read “better together”, “EU we love you” and “everyone is welcome here” before marching on to Parliament. The peaceful demonstration, entitled “London STILL Stays!” on the Facebook page created by its organisers, was intended as a rally to call for London to stay in the EU. But despite the clear intention of the protest, the individuals we spoke to last night have little hope that London will remain.

“I don’t think that London Stay is a good idea,” Hannah, 27, told us. “I can’t see how more segregation is going to do anyone any favours and I can’t see how it’s feasible. I just wanted to come here because I believe a Brexit was the wrong decision and I wanted to be around people who are doing something about it and showing their defiance.”
Kirsten & Ana (L), Remain supporters, and a 'London Stays' banner against the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square (R).
Hannah’s sentiment was echoed by others who agree that 'London Still Stays' is implausible. “It would be beautiful if London stayed in the EU but I think that’s unrealistic,” said Kirsten, 27 and originally from Belgium, although she now calls London her home. “This is a global, multicultural city and that feels endangered at the moment,” she continued, “It’s good that Khan is advocating for more rights and independence, but I don’t think London will stay.”

Hopes for a second referendum were dashed yesterday after David Cameron’s spokesperson claimed that this was “not remotely on the cards”, as reported in The Independent. That was despite the fact that over four million people had signed an online petition calling to discount a vote to Leave that was based on less than a 60% majority and less than a 75% turnout. In the wake of Cameron’s words, it seems unlikely that there will be much room for London to negotiate a stay.
Some protestors at Trafalgar Square yesterday reacted to this with defiant spirit; Sophie, 34, from France, who has been living in the UK for ten years, circled the protest carrying a sign that read “hug a European”, and offered up the service to strangers. “There are lots of reasons people are here,” she explained, “to change things, because they are worried, because they want to reverse the course of action.” Sophie said she can’t see the decision being reversed now, so she came to display solidarity instead. “I have this sign because I want to show love,” she said. “Whatever happens, it’s important that we stay unified against hatred.”
This seemed to be the overarching consensus in the march from Trafalgar Square to Westminster yesterday. Following the crowd, young people voiced major concerns over the rise in racially motivated attacks across the UK since the referendum votes were announced. 17-year-old Anna is from Finland but grew up in the UK. She came to the protest to show that she doesn't condone how people from immigrant backgrounds are being made to feel unwelcome. Galactica, also 17, agreed: "The level of racism – which has risen since the result – is just inherently wrong."
“It’s brought to the surface a lot of racism and bigotry,” concurred Aya, 28, who explained that she is a second generation Iraqi immigrant, and that while she “always saw London as a foundation of multiculturalism,” she’s no longer sure she wants to stay in the city. “It’s a different place now,” she added. “The least I could do was come here to stand in solidarity with those who feel the same.” Aya said she didn’t really know what else to do; “It’s so disheartening... I feel numb.”

Elsewhere, Imann, 24, a French student who has been living in London for three years, felt that – as a black woman and as a French woman – she no longer “felt at home here” after the results. “It feels like a way to accept racism,” she said, “the message is that foreigners are no longer accepted and that’s not OK.” Imann harbours concerns that a similar decision could happen at some point in France; “That such an important country economically as the UK have showed that they will leave sets such a bad example for the other countries in Europe to do the same,” she said.
Planned protests like yesterday’s will continue to take place across London over the coming weeks. Another march to Westminster is scheduled for the 2nd of July, and a protest to better make the voice of 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds heard is planned for the 3rd of July, again, in Trafalgar Square. People are organising now because, while, as Kirsten puts it, “It’s not too late to send a strong signal that we don’t agree with the result," it’s also about figuring out what to do next.

On this note, Rosanna, 29, said she signed an online petition and has been following post-Brexit coverage online, but feels that “it’s difficult to work out what you should do when there are so many deceptive headlines and different ideas on social media.” She says that she came to the protest to march from Trafalgar to Westminster yesterday because she “wanted to try to meet more people and engage with people in the real world with a view to taking action.”

What that action is, remains to be seen. But yesterday’s protest – “thousands” strong and “significant” by Jon Snow’s estimations – suggest that those ardently in the Remain camp will not take last week’s decision lightly. The show of people from across European countries at the demonstration only served to bolster the message that borders are irrelevant and anti-immigration rhetoric is unacceptable. Ultimately, yesterday seemed less about whether “London still stays” in the EU, and more about hoping the passionate Europeans in attendance "still stay" in London.

Photographed by Anna Jay