Banners reading “Lead with facts, not leave with lies”, “Let’s make Brexit!”, UK and EU flags – some stylized with lights instead of stars – were some of the props a group of several dozen gathered on Thursday evening near the British Parliament used to add some drama to their campaign.
Broken hearted, or on the contrary, looking forward to Friday night’s moment when Britain will officially leave the European Union as to a grand celebration, members of both the pro- and anti-Brexit camps have come out for yet another battle of slogans, surrounded by journalists or curious tourists, opposite Winston Churchill’s towering statue.
Featuring British humor, sharp statements, a cardboard with Premier Boris Johnson’s portrait, with dances, songs and young people wrapped in the EU flag, the rally resembles a sad little carnival.
A man knocks with a wooden spoon on an empty table and calls out his wares to the passers-by like an old-time street vendor: “Get your Brexit benefit! Come get your Brexit benefit!”. To prove his merchant talent he then tries to sell to anyone who approaches him a ragged tea-towel, as a timeless collectible. He says Brexit has divided the country even more, causing “more anger, more of a mess, more of a divide.”
“All the lies they have been feeding us are slowly falling apart, but they’ve had what they wanted; now the lies will be revealed and people will just get more and more angry,” he says.
Rhiannon Taylor, a 29-year old, paces about wrapped in the EU flag and carrying a banner with a Boris Johnson cutout portrait, under the headline “The Guide to the Prime Minister”. She talks about having lost confidence in the Executive. “I feel quite nervous about what our government will do next. I’m a remainer not just because I enjoy the right to live and work in 27 other countries, but also because [the Union] gets us a lot of protection, from workers’ rights to environmental standards, all of which our government has called unnecessary red tape. If that’s the way they talk about the basic workers’ rights before even leaving the EU, I don’t even want to think about what they will do when we actually leave the Union,” she says.
The woman confesses that despite her disappointment, she won’t leave the UK.
“I don’t think this is the end of the UK being in the EU. These people who are our government now won’t be our government forever, my generation will be, and my generation hates pretty much everything this government stands for. I will stay in Britain, because the second people like me start to leave, the far right types win and they get to do whatever they want with this country, and I love my country,” Taylor says.
In the small crowd the clash of ideas sometimes takes a playful turn. While one woman speaks about the reasons why she appreciates the European Union, another one, wearing a hat written “Brexit Party” hops around her.
“The EU does a lot of good, economically, businesswise being part of a bigger group is better. It must also be great being friends, actually working together, being able to mingle, this is really important to me,” says the anti-Brexit campaigner, who believes that the vote to leave the EU was also the result of the fact that “many had no idea what the EU is about and have therefore believed a lot of lies about it”.
The pro-Brexit woman rejoices and says she will celebrate Friday night near Parliament with champagne.
“I want us to be an independent nation. I don’t want to be told what to do by the EU. We love Europe, we just hate the EU. It tried to bully us as much as possible, but we no longer accepted this. They like to keep people under control, under the thumb, as we say in England, but we don’t want that, we want to be independent. Tomorrow will be the best day of my life,” she says gleefully.
The United Kingdom is formally leaving the European Union on Friday, at midnight – Brussels time, 11 p.m. London time. Both pro- and anti-Brexit rallies are expected to take place near the British Parliament.