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Thousands flock to capital to show pro-Europe credentials

Published 03/09/2016

The protesters want to halt the Government formally invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which triggers the two year deadline to withdrawal from the EU
The protesters want to halt the Government formally invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which triggers the two year deadline to withdrawal from the EU

Thousands of pro-Europe protesters have flooded the streets of the capital, calling for the UK to strengthen ties to the Continent following the Brexit vote.

The March for Europe was launched to ratchet up pressure on the Government to delay activating the formal process of leaving the EU.

Simultaneous protests rallying support for keeping close economic, cultural and social links to Europe are taking place in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Oxford, and Cambridge.

In London, a man was wrestled to the floor by police after snatching comedian Eddie Izzard's trademark pink beret when grappling with him in the street. The entertainer was appearing in support of the event.

Campaigners marched from Hyde Park and through Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament, where a debate on whether a second EU referendum should take place will be held on Monday.

It comes after an online petition garnered more than four million signatures after the vote to leave the EU in June, but an official Government response to the campaign said the Brexit decision "must be respected".

The demonstrations are also calling for greater public consultation on every stage of the Brexit negotiations. A sea of blue EU flags filled Parliament square shortly after 1pm, where protesters sang along to The Beatles' hit Hey Jude, replacing the title words instead with "EU".

Mr Izzard had his headware stolen near Downing Street by a man dressed in all black with a balaclava covering half his face.

Despite wearing high heels, Mr Izzard gave furious chase as police caught the man and tore back his beret while he was pinned to the floor.

He then dusted off the pink garment and placed it back on his head before marching to Parliament Square.

A number of activists and performance artists took to the stage to voice their support for unity with Europe, including left-wing journalist Owen Jones.

The author of The Establishment, who is not calling for a second referendum, said he felt it was important the Government was held to account in how it delivered Brexit.

He told the Press Association: " In a democracy you don't get a situation when one person wins and everybody else shuts up and has to support them, we've all got to use our freedom of expression to have a say in this country and that's what this (the rally) is about."

He added: "I think it's problematic arguing for a second referendum now. One side lost, relatively narrowly, but it was still a loss, you can't just have referendums until you get the right result.

"I think now the focus has to be on what the terms of Brexit currently are and that means people who voted remain having an input and being listened to, you don't have just one chunk of the country deciding our precise relationship with Europe and what Brexit means - all of us have to have that role as well ."

Mr Izzard took to the stage himself shortly afterwards, commending the police for apprehending the man who grabbed his hat.

When he left the stage, police officers sealed the brightly-coloured beret in an evidence bag.

In the square, flags adorned everything from cars to dogs as campaigners listened to the pro-EU speakers in the light rain.

Earlier, a confrontation had erupted in Whitehall when a cohort of Brexit campaigners yelled at the EU marchers as they passed each other in the street.

A group of men with hidden faces tried to block the passage of the march with a banner, but were moved aside by the blue-clad crowd.

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