Over 70 protests took place across Britain on Saturday against Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament and his attempt to avoid scrutiny of his no-deal Brexit.
Around 30,000 joined a protest in Whitehall in London. Another Europe is Possible, the main organisers, claimed over 100,000 took part.
There was fury at Johnson. Beyond that people came with a range of views.
A substantial number had EU flags or anti-Brexit placards. But others were focused on fighting the Tories and getting Johnson out.
Teacher Henry from Walthamstow told Socialist Worker, “It’s great to see so many people here at short notice.
“This is the real crucial moment. It’s not enough to protest about the latest outrages, the whole Brexit process has to be halted.”
But health worker Annette said, “I don’t really care what you think about Brexit. For me I think this is our chance to get the Tories out and to end their rule. We have to stop Universal Credit and the attacks on EU nationals.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott addressed the crowd and said Jeremy Corbyn had sent his support for the demonstration.
“We are here outside 10 Downing Street trying to get Boris Johnson’s attention, but let me tell you, before too long Jeremy Corbyn will be in 10 Downing Street and Boris will be gone,” she said.
Abbott tried to rally those in front of her with the cry of “What do we want to do”—expecting a reply of “stop the coup”, but some shouted “Where is Jeremy?” in response.
As the protest began to break up, hundreds of people went on to block Westminster Bridge and the roads around Trafalgar Square. They were chanting, “You shut down the parliament, we shut down the streets.”
Green party London assembly member Caroline Russell was among protesters arrested by police for sitting in the road.
The character of the protests varied across Britain. In some the anti-Brexit theme dominated. In others the focus was much more on pushing to get Johnson out and to force a general election.
In many it was a mix of both moods.
In Glasgow around 5,000 joined a strongly anti-Tory rally calling for a general election that was hosted by the People’s Assembly and others. It heard speakers including Jeremy Corbyn and Charlotte Ahmed from Stand Up To Racism.
Corbyn said he was backing the protests across Britain adding, “Demonstrations are taking place everywhere because people are angered and outraged about what is happening.
“Angered that the government and a prime minister elected by 93,000 members of the Tory party is trying to hijack the needs, aims and aspirations of 65 million people.
“Well think on Boris, it’s not on and we’re not having it.”
He added, “Fundamentally this is an issue of democracy.
“However you voted in 2016 and however you voted in 2017, however you vote in any future election of any sort, the important thing is you should have your voice and your say and your rights.”
He also said the government should “stand aside” for a general election, arguing it does not have the confidence of a majority of people or of MPs.
Approximately 5,000 people protested in Brighton. One of the organisers, Mike Parker, said, “We’re calling on Remainers and Leavers to send Mr Johnson a message—we won’t let him dismantle democracy.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tried to use the demonstration to push for a second referendum.
But the overwhelming message from marchers was an anti-Tory one.
Around 800 gathered in Birmingham in the rain. Labour’s West Midlands MEP Neena Gill told the crowd, “Boris may think he can shut down parliament, but he cannot shut down the people.”
Thousands took part in Manchester with speakers including Paul Mason, Julie Ward MEP, and health worker Karen Reissmann—who vigorously defended workers’ freedom of moverment and migration.
Many protesters marched to join the Extinction Rebellion events in the city.
Swansea saw 400 demonstrate chanting “What do we want? General election” and “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out.”
Over 1,500 took part in Bristol with many protesters joining in with a chant of “Johnson out, Corbyn in”.
Up to 2,000 demonstrated in Nottingham. There was a prominent Lib Dem speaker but also others.
Thousands also protested in Leeds where a call for a general election from Labour’s Richard Burgon MP was well received.
He said, “Johnson’s attack on democracy is being done to cut a deal with Trump to flog off our NHS, drive down wages and deregulate our economy.
“We’re fighting for democracy and for a society that works for the 99 percent, not the elites that Trump and Johnson serve.”
Up to 4,000 took part in Sheffield with a strong pro-EU feeling from many, although local MPs stressed Johnson’s actions were not a Leave or Remain issue. Later around 1,500 people joined a demonstration in solidarity with Kashmir.
More than 2,000 people joined a protest in Newcastle organised by the People’s Assembly.
People chanted, “Stop the coup,” and, “Defend democracy”.
Some waved EU flags but others held placards reading “Bollocks to Boris”—an adaptation of the popular liberal Remain slogan, “Bollocks to Brexit”.
Around 2,000 gathered in Exeter while 150 took part in Northampton.
About 1,000 took to the streets in Cambridge, 800 in York and 300 in Plymouth. Chichester saw its biggest demonstration in decades of over 400 people.
There is a big potential to break Johnson’s government. But it won’t be realised if the protests are anti-Brexit marches. They need to connect the latest Tory manoeuvres with the battle against austerity and racism, and the resistance to the attacks on working class people.
Neither the EU nor the British parliament are examples of the democracy we should fight for.
Protests are now called every day. It is revealing that the trade union leaders are almost wholly absent from any intervention in a huge political crisis.
Activists and socialists have to try to shape the fightback.
Thanks to all those who sent reports.
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