Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Londoners Gather In Trafalgar Square To Protest Brexit Vote


It rained in London today, but the weather didn't keep more than a thousand people from assembling in Trafalgar Square. They were there to protest last week's vote to leave the European Union and to show solidarity with the millions of other EU citizens who live in the United Kingdom.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: EU, we love you. EU, we love you. EU, we love you.

SIEGEL: NPR's Frank Langfitt was at the demonstration. And Frank, set the scene for us. Who was there?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, it was a mix of students, office workers, middle-aged folks. People were standing on the steps of Nelson's Column, which dominates the square, using a bullhorn. Some people were wrapped in blue EU flags. It was kind of drizzly, as you were saying, and there were placards that said things like, no man is an island, generation remain - that sort of thing.

SIEGEL: But what's the message that the protesters are trying to send?

LANGFITT: One is that people from the EU are still welcome here. You know, this is multicultural London that celebrates diversity. There was this technician I was talking to, Robert. Her name was Debra Peenar. And she works with a lot of people from the EU, and here's what she said.

DEBRA PEENAR: I'm embarrassed coming in to work every day. I'm ashamed of the decision my country has made. And I'm really upset, and I just wanted to show Europe that we still love them. And if it was up to us, you know, a large portion of the country still wants to be in the EU.

SIEGEL: Frank, we heard Debra Peenar say she is ashamed and embarrassed. Was there anyone at the protest who said, I'm angry?

LANGFITT: Yeah. There's a lot of that. There's a lot of bitterness about this referendum. I talked to one student who kind of echoed what I've been hearing across London now for a number of days, and that's - a lot of the people who were - voted for remain feel that Brexit politicians actually tricked voters.

There was this promise, as you would remember when you were here, Robert, to put money that normally goes to the EU into health care, and now some of those politicians are reneging on that. People were also told - people who were very concerned about immigration who voted to leave the EU - they thought this was going to make a big change in immigration, and now they're hearing from politicians who say that may not be the

case. There was this art student I was talking to. Her name is Grace Crannis, and she said she felt that politicians actually - some of them backed the referendum really to gain political power, and this is how she sees it.

GRACE CRANNIS: This was completely tactical. It was an angry, divisive, lying politics, and it's incited racial hatred on the streets of Britain.

LANGFITT: Do you think that they thought this referendum would ever pass?

CRANNIS: No, absolutely not.

SIEGEL: Frank, what do you think the demonstrators were doing - expressing themselves, blowing off steam, or is there a plan of action that they're now going to do to try to overturn the referendum result?

LANGFITT: No, I don't get that sense, Robert. I think that there was also a sense - while there was a lot of cheering here and signs of solidarity, there's also frankly a sense of resignation and realism. You know, the referendum was last week. The leave campaign won by nearly 4 percentage points. I don't think people here really expect to change the result.

I think what they wanted to do was just show that many people disagree with the decision to leave and also kind of counter an image that they're afraid's getting out there in the world that the U.K. is unwelcome and trying to close itself off. And what they wanted to say was this is still a very inclusive nation.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thank you, Frank.

SIEGEL: Happy to do it, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.