‘We are not going away’
Manchester Leavers marched on Saturday to commemorate Peterloo and stand up for Brexit.
As the People’s Vote march went through London on Saturday, and MPs voted again to delay the Brexit process, a group of Leavers gathered in Manchester to stand up for Brexit and the radical history of the city.
The march was organised by Leavers of Manchester. It was held in part to honour the 200th anniversary of Peterloo, when cavalry charged into a crowd of demonstrators who had gathered in St Peter’s Field to demand representation.
Saturday’s march began at Manchester Cathedral, where around 250 attendees – from across the north, old and young – gathered.
‘The reason we are here today is because after three-and-a-half years it is clear we have got a Remain establishment’, said Shanjan Usman, 27, from Bradford. ‘It feels like every day we are not living in a democracy, but more like we are living in an oligarchy.’
Steven, 35, a history lecturer based in Leeds, told me he actually voted Remain in 2016: ‘I thought that was the right choice. But some of the Remain activism I have seen online since the vote has really turned me off. So, I decided to come down and march.’
We headed down Deansgate and then on to Windmill Street, where there is a plaque commemorating Peterloo. There was a minute’s silence for those slain. One of the stewards, Mark, told me he is a descendant of John Lees, one of those killed in the massacre.
Beth, another marcher, was dressed as a Suffragette. She told me she finds female MPs who are blocking the votes of millions of pro-Leave women particularly disgraceful. ‘I find it so disgusting that the women in parliament pretend to stand up for the Suffragette movement’, she said.
On Saturday MPs were supposed to vote on PM Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. The deal got a mixed reception from those marching in Manchester. Jeffery Burge, 64, said he ‘will settle for Boris’s deal. It’s not ideal, but it could well be the best we can get.’
But others begged to differ. Inaya Folarin Iman, prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party in Leeds North East, said ‘it is not Brexit’. ‘Once we have a clean break, we are in a better position to be able to negotiate. There are so many problems with this deal – it splits up the union rather than delivers Brexit.’
The march concluded at St Peter’s Square – close by what was St Peter’s Field – with a series of guest speakers. spiked’s editor, Brendan O’Neill, spoke powerfully of those who gave their lives for democracy, and why we cannot let their sacrifices be in vain. The attempts to thwart Brexit, he added, showed that the establishment still feared the radical idea of democracy.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, Brexit Party MEP for the North West, was also among the speakers. He is also a critic of Johnson’s deal, and worries Leavers are repeating the same mistakes: ‘It is very important to not do what we did after the result in 2016 and think “job well done, let’s all go home”. That cannot happen again. We really need to mobilise. We really need to fight. This will not be the end – this is only the beginning.’
Trade unionist Paul Embery paid tribute in his speech to those who voted Leave in the face of all the threats and insults thrown at them during the referendum campaign. ‘They have been attacked by the establishment, attacked by politicians and by certain liberal newspapers and commentators’, he told me after the march. ‘But they are standing firm and saying “my voice is important and you better start listening, and until you do we are not going away”’.
The marchers in Manchester, and the millions more like them across the country, clearly aren’t going anywhere.
Callum Breese is a writer based in Sheffield.
Picture by: Callum Breese.