Tens of thousands of British nationalists descended on the city of Westminster on Friday for a pro-Brexit rally aimed at protesting the decision to delay Brexit from the original exit date.
Demonstrators chanted “we want Brexit” and “we want our country back” as they expressed dismay and disgust over attempts by both the Conservative government and the progressive opposition parties such as Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Change UK to either scuttle or neuter Brexit.
English Defense League founder Tommy Robinson and UK Independence Party leader Gerard Batten set up a stage in Whitehall, where the British government is based. A few hundred yards down the same street, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and European Research Group whip Mark Francois addressed the rally from a separate podium, run by the pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave group, directly outside Parliament.
— Owen Paterson MP (@OwenPaterson) March 29, 2019
“We were betrayed,” Robinson declared. “Today is supposed to be our independence day.”
“What’s happened over there has not just turned this day that should’ve been one of great celebration into a day that history will mark as a day of great betrayal, I believe that what’s happened over the course of two years is actually one of the saddest and worst chapters in the history of our nation,” Farage said.
“Prime minister, what part of no, no, no don’t you understand?” Francois added, referring to a catchphrase of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who remains popular with the British right.
100,000 flocked to London to hear Tommy Robinson speak today.
Remoaners are trying to get this pic removed bcos they don’t want you to see all the support he has. pic.twitter.com/00hSgQKF56
— Imran khan (@KhanUR1983) March 29, 2019
There was no shortage of infighting, however, as Robinson also took a shot at Farage, who has been critical of Robinson’s rise.
“Nigel Farage doesn’t care about you,” Robinson said. “He is exactly the same as the establishment.”
Francois disavowed Robinson, while defending his right to speak.
“I don’t like Tommy Robinson, I’ve never met Tommy Robinson, I have no wish to meet Tommy Robinson,” Francois told a reporter who attempted to draw a connection between the two men. “It’s a democracy, he can go and say what he wants to, I’ve made my views perfectly clear on stage.”
Other patriotic groups in attendance including Democratic Football Lads Alliance, Britain First, the White Pendragons and Yellow Vests UK. 5 were arrested in clashes with the police in the evening following the rally.
Prime Minister Theresa May had previously used executive authority to delay the Brexit date from March 29 to April 12, in order to accommodate a third vote in Parliament on her deal, which had already failed twice before to pass the House of Commons. This was seen by Brexit supporters as a total betrayal of her past campaign promise that she would fulfill the will of the British people by enacting Brexit by the March 29 deadline.
Many prominent Brexit leaders in Parliament, such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg, former Conservative Party leader Ian Duncan-Smith, and former Brexit Secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab, caved under the pressure, backing May’s deal after months of denouncing it as something that would turn Britain into a “vassal state” of the EU.
Immediately prior to the rally, Farage lambasted Johnson and Raab for betraying their supporters.
“I think today Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have ruled themselves out [as leadership candidates],” Farage told the Daily Express. “They voted for a treaty that they themselves called a surrender document. I can’t take them seriously anymore.”
It is said that in order to secure the votes of these MPs, May promised to resign if her deal was passed, which succeeded in wooing these ambitious figures, several of whom harbor their own leadership ambitions. However, since the promise was not made publicly and Conservative Party rules prevent another leadership challenge for a year, this pledge would be essentially unenforceable and easy for May to backtrack on. Nevertheless, the deal still failed, with 28 Conservative Brexit hardliners and 10 members of the allied Democratic Unionist Party joining 6 pro-Remain Conservatives and opposition parties in voting it down.
After the failure of the deal, the EU has announced an emergency meeting to discuss further extending the Brexit leave date, while May is reportedly contemplating a fourth vote within the next two weeks.