‘Get back to the 1930s, you f***ing fascists’ was one of the more printable insults screamed at the small group of Brexiteers holding a counter protest at the March for Europe on Saturday. Given the event was intended by the organisers to be a ‘huge celebration of peace, tolerance and diversity’, it’s a shame that no one had told some of those taking part.
Let me set the scene for you. The march started as predictably as could be imagined: a sea of blue-clothed, London-types, largely middling in both age and class. Banners, flags, balloons and dance music, pumped out by a bicycle-drawn loudspeaker, filled the air. But this feeling of goodwill didn’t last for long. A couple of hundred metres from Parliament Square there was a buzz of commotion. It was the counter protestors. No more than fifteen of them were lined up, with their presumed leader defiantly wielding a Union Jack and occasionally yelling into a megaphone. Now I’m not going to deny that they were being a bit provocative. But their attempts to goad the ‘brainwashed Remainiacs’, as their banner put it, encouraged some of those marching for Europe to forget themselves and ditch their tolerance.
Instead, people who might normally be polite, kind-hearted and respectable members of society turned into furious, shrieking animals, frothing at the mouth. Don’t believe me? Watch videos of the clash on YouTube and see for yourself. I saw Remainers make a point of stopping, before screaming at the top of their lungs, pointing, gesticulating and hurling a fierce verbal barrage of predominantly personal insults at the Brexiteers. Different chants, ranging from the somewhat uninventive, ‘stupid c***s, stupid c***s’, to the widely adopted ‘shame on you, shame on you’, filled the air.
The whistles and vuvuzelas being blown (yes, apparently people had held onto them since the 2010 World Cup) in an attempt to drown out the counter protest’s chanting were also deafening. The jovial festival atmosphere was swiftly replaced by one of tension and fear. While some walked past wryly waving EU flags, gently taunting the Brexiteers, others had looks of venom on their faces. Thank God there was a police cordon surrounding the counter protest.
Safe to say this incident had somewhat soured the atmosphere. It’s clear that people care enough about this vote to take to the streets. And whatever you think about their cause, political engagement can only be a good thing. But the very real hatred on show amongst some Remainers was worrying. On its Facebook page, March for Europe says it ‘is a diverse, inclusive movement’. It’s a pity those values of tolerance don’t seem to extend to the 52 per cent on the other side of the referendum debate.