On the 8th of October, residents of the North East gathered in Sunderland to march for the right to vote in the final Brexit deal. The event was organised by North East for Europe (NE4E), a group of people from various political parties who are concerned about the effect Brexit will have on the North East of England.
Despite Theresa May ruling out a second referendum on the 3rd of October, both British and EU citizens around the country are demanding another chance to decide on the UK’s fate in what is being called a “People’s Vote”. Carlton West, a member of the Liberal Democrats and a speaker at the event, said: “Many people have changed their minds and realised the real implications of leaving the EU. Our government failed us by not giving us the tools to make an objective decision.”
During her keynote speech at the Conservative Party’s annual conference, May claimed that Britain was unafraid to leave the EU with no deal, even though it could produce “a bad outcome for the UK”. In disagreement with this sentiment, NE4E are encouraging people who do fear Brexit to exercise their “democratic right” and “patriotic duty” to campaign for strong links with the EU.
The marchers who flocked to Mowbray Park on a Saturday afternoon were passionate about their cause, chanting “this is what democracy looks like” and holding up signs with slogans such as “do they know (or care) what’s best for the North East”?
A concern for the state of the North East economy was prevalent among the protestors. NE4E founder Louise Brown said: “The North East is set to be the hardest hit by Brexit… impact reports released have clearly stated this. Nissan have said they need to stay in the Single Market to operate so if this does not happen many jobs will be lost as it is a major employer in the area.”
However, not everyone at the event agreed that Brexit would be bad for the North East; there was also a significant turn out from pro-Brexit counter-protesters, who shouted that “we already had our vote” during the march and even “shame on you” and “liar” during some of the speeches. Two men had to be removed from the crowd for shouting abuse while Lucy Dixon, a Sunderland teenager, was speaking.
“I felt shocked that all of those people were shouting… I’m just happy that I didn’t go off stage because that would just tell them that they won with their pointless shouting and I didn’t want it to be like that.
“After I walked off stage, young people came up to me and said how good my speech was. They understood where I was coming from and that’s the reason why I did it. It’s good that people were interested in what I was talking about.”
Despite incidents like this making protests nerve-wracking, Veterans for Europe representative Steve Gavin believes that it is still important for young people to make their voices heard. “It is vital that young people show the strength of their feelings,” he said. “Young people across the UK weren’t allowed to vote on their future in Europe… it’s simply not fair. As the Tory backbencher Rees-Mogg has said: it will take fifty years of hardship (before Brexit settles). This work will fall to young people.”
In spite of this, students at the March for Sunderland were few and far between. The students that did attend expressed concern for aspects of student life that could be compromised by Brexit, including the ERASMUS scheme. Louise Brown argues that there is still time for young people to make a difference.
“Register to vote and if you are not around during the time of an election, make sure you set up a postal vote instead. In the event of a general election being called early, this could make all the difference. Likewise, if a People’s Vote is indeed called, it is imperative that young people get their voice heard this time as (Brexit) will affect them the most.”