She sits on one of the huge concrete pads that block access to Westminster parliament, anti-terrorism protections. With her little hat, her embroidered blouse and her long, colorful skirt, Penny Griffiths, 69, looks like a character from Agatha Christie. She is holding a small poster that just says "Stop The Coup". It is under this banner that tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered Saturday in thirty cities of the United Kingdom. They protested against Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend parliament from 9 September to 14 October. This initiative, unprecedented in its duration and a few weeks of the expected departure of the country of the European Union scheduled for October 31, was perceived as a cynical attempt to muzzle the deputies, a denial of democracy, a form of "stroke".
Penny took a train from her Devon village in southwestern England. "It seemed to me important to be present, to testify, to show that this abuse of power is unacceptable"she explains in perfect French. At her side, Caroline Miller, 46, finishes her picnic. The two women did not know each other before the demonstration. They have just discovered that they have at least one thing in common: both are teachers, even though Penny retired three years ago in 2016. "My last act as a teacher was to organize the Brexit referendum in the school. The children voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. But what impressed me was that the staff, the housewives, the canteen staff, the janitor, voted for the Leave. That's where I realized that Brexit was a story of inequality. " Caroline, like Penny, voted against the exit of the EU in 2016. But today's protest "Overcomes the question of Brexit, it is about protesting a drift, an abuse of power"she explains. She adds that she could have lived with Brexit and the agreement negotiated by Theresa May who, "At least tried to find a solution". Like Penny, she worries about the "Dangerous drift to the far right of this government".
"It's our democracy that is under attack"
In London, the demonstration, organized in three days, does not have the magnitude of the last large pro-European rally, last March, which had gathered several hundreds of thousands of people. But the latter had been organized several months in advance. This Saturday, the atmosphere is different. Admittedly, European flags float here and there, neon yellow stickers "Bollocks to Brexit" (Which could be translated as Brexit of shit or Brexit my balls …) decorate a lot of t-shirts, but the crowd and the slogans do not focus only on the Brexit. Some protesters say they took to the streets for the first time, because for them, "It goes too far, it is our democracy that is attacked". "I feel the insecurity, the uncertainty that grows every day"Madharu Singh, 58, says. "What are these ways, bypassing parliament?" He was born in Kenya, before his independence, and has lived in the United Kingdom for 35 years. "I had enough difficulty integrating myself, building a life here to know perfectly that closing the borders, leaving the EU is a huge mistake". One of his sons has preferred to go into exile in China and he does not have a second of hesitation. "If we go out without agreement, I leave the country."
In front of the famous black grills of Downing Street, the crowd alternates "Shame on you" (Shame on you) and Stop the Coup. On a stage in the middle of Whitehall, the avenue that connects Westminster Palace to Trafalgar Square, politicians and activists follow one another. A young man, who looks just like "James", explains having voted Leave in 2016. Then he adds: "Boris Johnson justifies himself by saying that it is a question of honoring the will of the people. I am a member of this people, and I can tell you that it is not my will. " He did not vote to leave the EU without an agreement, nor to see the parliament suspended.
"What message does this send for the future?"
Janet Goring, 56, is very proud of her embroidered banner with Liberty fabric falls, "So british". She is too "wordless" facing the Prime Minister's action. "It's extremely dangerous, it sets a precedent when a minority government takes democracy hostage to achieve its ends"she explains. Beside her, 53-year-old Sarah Holley and 58-year-old Kevin Moore, from Oxford, are adding up. "We live in a democracy based on precedents, without a written constitution. What message does this send for the future? "
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Anna, 34, and Victoria, 38, have chosen a very direct message. On their white T-shirts, they printed a very clear "Fuck Boris". "This guy was not elected by the voters and he decides to suspend parliament, it's a shame and it highlights the weaknesses of our political system", Judge Anna.
Just behind her, we can see Big Ben and the parliament, wrapped in scaffolding. Tuesday, the deputies will meet there after the summer break. They will only have a few days to try to stop the suspension of their parliament. "One of the main slogans of the Leave campaign was to say that with Brexit, our parliament would regain its sovereignty", remarks Victoria, "What a strange way to give Parliament back its sovereignty than to suspend it and prevent it from working!"
Sonia Delesalle-Stolper Correspondent in London