A rally and concert on the Sunday ahead of May 9, Europe Day, organised in London by Thank EU for the Music and the European Movement, offered the first opportunity for over two years to break out the flags and banners and join others in celebrating Europe and the 70 years of peace achieved since the founding of the Common Market. What made it all the more poignant was that many of us were carrying both an EU and Ukrainian flag, and that the concert following the rally was in support of the Ukrainian war against the Russian invasion.
Familiar marching routes raised the spirits
It was a small but happy crowd that set off on the train from the Sussex coastal towns of Seaford and Newhaven to take to the streets of the capital once more. For a group that had campaigned tirelessly over half a decade for the UK to retain its relationship with the European Union, even if in a different form after Brexit, recent years had taken their toll. The drumbeat of endless anti-European headlines in the popular press, the insulting invective aimed at European friends and allies by British politicians, all drove an increasing sense of alienation from the country that we lived in and thought we knew. Then came Covid, with lockdown limiting even further our ability to be out on the streets campaigning and talking to passers-by about the realities of Brexit.
But spirits were high as we arrived at Victoria station and turned towards Westminster, following a route familiarised by years of joining million+ marches to raise our voices outside the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street. In a stark contrast to earlier anti-Brexit London marches, the numbers at the pre-Europe Day rally outside Europe House in Smith Square were small, but there was nevertheless a real sense of joy at being back out on the streets again, of reconnecting with fellow-campaigners and seeing many familiar faces. There was Steve Bray, the ‘shouty man’; the philosopher and academic A C Grayling; and Mike Galsworthy, co-founder of Scientists for the EU and now campaigns strategy adviser for the European Movement.
If we had been a little depressed by reminders of what has already been lost through the actions of a boorish and populist government, Grayling raised our mood, pointing to the growing number of polls already showing a change of heart on the part of the public. He recognised that the path towards an end goal of rejoining the EU was likely to be a long and hard one, but our task was to keep alive the flame of hope, and to persist in publicising the continuing harm that Brexit was causing to almost every area of our national life.
Inspiring music to end the day
Inspired by Grayling’s message, we joined the crowds crossing Smith Square to St John’s, where the London Tango for Europe Day concert was about to begin. Not being an ardent fan of tango, it was all the more surprising that I was completely entranced by the music and the virtuoso playing of the Romano Viazzini Ensemble. Singers Jacqui Tate and Joanna Strand brought flair and emotion to the music, and the young tenor Alessandro Fisher was absolutely captivating, with a voice of extraordinary power and purity that enveloped the entire church. The concert ended on an emotional high with the playing of the British and Ukrainian national anthems followed by Ode to Joy, and the cheers of the audience raised the roof.
Grayling’s earlier message of defiance and the struggle to keep hope alive in the face of adversity seemed only too apt as we made our way home, conscious that, unlike many Ukrainian refugees, we had homes to return to safely.