PROTESTORS who swamped Swindon’s Cenotaph have been criticised by a former veteran.

A group of up to 100 people met beside the stone war memorial on Saturday afternoon. A group calling itself the Swindon Yellow Vests squared off against a coalition of anti-fascist pro-EU and union groups.

Veteran's anger

One Royal Navy veteran passing-by the protest blasted the demonstrators for standing in the shadow of the Cenotaph, a memorial to Swindon's war dead.
The veteran, who asked not to be named, said: “I don’t care what side it is. If they don’t get off there I’m going to bust their heads.

“I don’t want them on my headstone.”

A counter-demonstration spokesman defended the decision to protest beside the war memorial: “The yellow vests were going to use it for their political ends and we wanted to stop them.” 

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A group of around 30 yellow vested-protesters, wearing the distinctive hi-viz tabards made famous by French demonstrators, called for Britain’s immediate exit from the European Union.

They were met with chants of “racists, off our streets” from the opposing group. 

Organisers of the yellow vests march denied they were racists or fascists. In a nod to the Brexit referendum result Martin Costello, a former Swindon UKIP parliamentary candidate, argued that the counter-demonstrators were the fascists: “A fascist is somebody who rebels against democracy and we want to uphold democracy. It is one of the reasons we want to see Brexit happen.”

What was the protest about? 

The Swindon protest was called last week as part of a series of demonstrations held by the UK yellow vest movement. 

That movement initially began in France. Protestors in the capital, Paris, sported the hi-viz vests as they demonstrated against the tax plans of president Emmanuel Macron.

However, the symbol has been increasingly adopted in the UK by a group calling for Britain’s swift exit from the EU - as well as a series of other demands, including an end to homelessness.

One of the march's organisers. Andy Crow, 49, said: “The yellow vests are now a global movement. The core belief of that movement is that normal working people have had enough of the establishment going for this globalised world view. We don’t agree with that.

“We want to leave the EU. We should have done that as a country a week or two after the vote.

“We’re British. We need to rebuild this country. We’re made of sterner stuff in this country. We’ve still got that bulldog spirit.”

Martin Costello added: “We want to see homelessness eradicated from Swindon.

“We want to leave the EU on World Trade Organisation rules. Anything else is an absolute disgrace.” He said the protestors got labelled as members far right or left, “but we all really want the same thing - that we need people working together”.

Grandmother-of-four Margaret Vincent, 79, of Queensfield, said the Swindon protest was her first: “Britain is a proud country. We have fought two world wars. I voted leave for my grandchildren, for their sanity. My life is over. The future happens to my grandchildren.”

‘The far right is hijacking the yellow vest movement’ 

Standing against the yellow vest was a collection of different groups, including trade unions, the Green and Labour parties and Swindon People’s Assembly.
A spokesman for the counter demonstration said: “The big thing for us is that this isn’t about leaving the EU. There are people on our demonstration who voted Leave. For us, this is about the far right hijacking an issue.” 

Anish Harrison, 39, from Old Town, said: “I’m here today because I’m protesting against right wing people coming into our town. I don’t think their views should be acceptable to anyone. Just as with the Brown Shirts in the 1930s got booted out, racism is on the rise and we need to show it’s unacceptable.”

Andy Bentley of Swindon Green Party added: “The yellow vests movement is something the far right have been trying to hijack for their own ends.” 
The yellow vests, who counted among their number the Swindon leader of a party aimed at “supporting the British people against the evils of Islam”, denied they were members of the far right.