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Hundreds turn out at Defend Democracy rally in Cambridge to protest over prorogation of Parliament

There was a palpable sense of anger and a steely determination as hundreds of people turned out in Cambridge to voice their opposition to the proroguing of Parliament and Brexit.

Organised by the campaign group Another Europe is Possible, the ‘Defend Democracy: Resist the Parliament Shut Down’ rally took place outside the Guildhall from noon on Saturday.

Defend Democracy: Resist the Parliament Shut Down rally at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell. (15980396)
Defend Democracy: Resist the Parliament Shut Down rally at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell. (15980396)

It was one of more than 30 that attracted large crowds across the country - Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and York were among other cities where demonstrations were held.

They came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to shut down Parliament from between September 9 and 12 until October 14.

Critics claim it is deliberate move to cut down the time MPs will have to pass laws preventing a possible no-deal Brexit. The UK is due to leave the European Union on October 31.

The Prime Minister has claimed the prorogation, which includes the traditional party conference season, had nothing to do with Brexit and there would be ample time to discuss it in Parliament. He has said the prorogation - the ending of a parliamentary session - will enable the government to bring forward a new agenda focusing on “helping the NHS, fighting violent crime, investing in infrastructure and science and cutting the cost of living”.

But rally organisers Another Europe is Possible said: “Boris Johnson is trying to shut down our democracy so that he can deliver on his Brexit agenda.

“We we can’t just rely on the courts or parliamentary process to save the day. We all have a duty to stand up and be counted.”

Speaking at the Cambridge rally, the city’s Labour MP, Daniel Zeichner, thanked those who turned out to show they “are not going to let this government shut down our democracy”.

He said: “Across the country, we are seeing huge rallies and turnouts.

“Most people would say the first job of the government is to protect its citizens. But what’s it doing. It’s playing a game of chicken - a very, very high stakes game of chicken with our country, it’s playing it with Parliament, it’s playing it with the European Union.”

He called it a “disgrace” that European citizens living in the Cambridge area face such an uncertain future.

“They talked about settled status. They talked about making people apply. What do we find now? 42 per cent of those people applying aren’t even getting that security - another Windrush scandal in the making. It is a disgrace what is going on in this country,” he said.

“I worry about what is going to happen in the next week or two.

“I can assure you MPs are not going to be shut down by this government. We are absolutely determined that this no-deal Brexit is prevented.

“I’m sometimes told that I’m somehow not representing the will of the people. I have to say I think I’m representing the will of the people in Cambridge.

“Look at what’s happening in Ireland. That hard-won peace, that fragile peace being threatened in this game of chicken. The truth is, there is no answer to the Irish conundrum. There are no magical solutions to this and everybody really knows that.

Defend Democracy: Resist the Parliament Shut Down rally at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell. (15980389)
Defend Democracy: Resist the Parliament Shut Down rally at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell. (15980389)

“So when people say to me what about that referendum result of 2016. I say, were people really told they were voting for the break-up of Britain? That’s where it leads, with no doubt at all.

“For those of us who actually value this country, this United Kingdom, there is only one answer: it’s the answer all the way through. There is only one good deal, it’s the best deal, it’s the deal we’ve got, it’s staying in the European Union.

“That’s why they’re scared of putting it back to the people because in life, times change and people change their minds, especially when they get the true facts, rather than the lies.”

He pointed to the 2017 General Election, in which Theresa May lost her majority as evidence that people had begun to see the folly of leaving the EU.

He said Boris Johnson was treating Parliament with “contempt”.

“This is not even a Tory government. It’s a vote leave government. It is a coup, effectively,” he said.

“Get ready to make this the shortest lived government in recent history. Get ready to defend our democracy and get ready to get rid of Johnson.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, called for cross-party unity among MPs to defeat what was happening.

“Previously, we had in Theresa May a Prime Minister who ran her car into a brick wall. Now we’ve got Johnson taking us over a cliff,” he said.

Imogen Rodgers, 17, also spoke.

“Everybody can change. The problem is not the person. The person is the view. When the person is the Prime Minister, that’s when it’s a problem.

“We have to hold the view to account.

“We have spent three years and counting running around after the views of those in power while the climate crisis deepens, while my future burns.

“We have nothing to show for it. My generation’s grandchildren will judge this period harshly.”

Stuart Tuckwood, of Unison and the Green Party, said Johnson and the Leave campaign had “promised fantasy” and were now trying to “circumvent Parliament and our democracy”.

“They were irresponsible in promising the impossible and now they are in government they are going to be doing whatever it takes, including trashing our democracy to try and deliver on those fantasies that they promised.

“In Unison, we know that a no-deal Brexit will be a disaster for working people and for the people we represent.

“But now, more than that, we are fighting for truth and we’re fighting for democracy as well.”

He said Johnson and the Conservatives had learned from US President Donald Trump.

“Closing down Parliament is nothing to do with a new agenda of government,” he said, demanding a General Election.

“Brexit is of the rich, by the rich, for the rich,” he added.

“We need to unite together and bring down the government. There is an election coming.”

He claimed the Prime Minister was acting out of “desperation”.

Paul Browne, chairman of Cambridge Stays, the group campaigning to stop Brexit, asked the crowd: “Does anyone here actually believe that Boris Johnson really wants a deal with the EU? Of course he doesn’t.”

He added: “We must work together to solve it. We now have one enemy: it’s the same enemy. Over the next week, we have to get down to London to protest.”

Cllr Kelley Greene, Labour city councillor for Petersfield, said: “The Tories throughout history have trodden down on working class people.”

Cllr Jamie Dalzell, the Liberal Democrat city councillor for West Chesterton, said the rallies nationwide sent a “clear message: we will not surrender our democracy”.

He said his sleep and work had been affected by the decision to prorogue Parliament.

“This week, people are hurt,” he said. “The first real action of Boris Johnson has been to wound this country. Let’s make sure it’s his last.

“I know through bitter experience that the tactics that this government are using are the tactics that gangs of bullies and charlatans use to get their own way. We cannot allow them to weaken our spirits.”

Saturday's rally followed one on August 28, organised by Cambridge Stays, which was attended by about 400 people.

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