Both right-wing and left-wing demonstrators donned yellow vests and marched through the streets of London on Saturday, attending two very different anti-government protests.

While several hundred pro-Brexit campaigners rallied outside St James’ Park station wearing the high-vis vests made famous by anti-fuel tax protesters in France, several thousand anti-austerity activists also adopted the yellow jackets for a march from Oxford Circus to Trafalgar Square.

Both groups told The Independent they saw a connection between the French movement and their own frustrations and demands. And both groups insisted the other side had hijacked the true spirit of the gilet jaunes.

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Police did have to separate a small number of right-wing and left-wing demonstrators during a “confrontation” at Trafalgar Square, according to a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police. One man was arrested for assaulting an officer shortly after 3pm and was taken into custody.

The left-wing protest, organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and backed by many Jeremy Corbyn supporters, chanted “Tories out!” and other slogans demanding a general election.

“The yellow vest movement is a movement against neo-liberal policies,” said Jim Scott, 42, from Pembrokeshire. “In France they’re essentially campaigning against the divide between rich and poor, and that’s what we’re doing too.”

“The right-wing has tried to hijack the narrative of the yellow vest movement, but it’s the organised left who know how to create a network.”

Gary Lewes, 50, from south Wales, added: “People on the left gathered here today may have some very different views on Brexit, but we’re united in wanting a general election and a move to the left. People in France are campaigning for change, and we need a big change in this country.”

Many demonstrators on the People’s Assembly Against Austerity march wore yellow vests (EPA)

Leading pro-Brexit agitator James Goddard was detained outside St James’ Park station on suspicion of a public order offence shortly before 12 noon on Saturday, an arrest related to “incidents that took place in the Westminster area on Monday, 7 January,” according to a police spokeswoman.

Mr Goddard was seen confronting the Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a strong Remainer, in Westminster on Monday.  

Those attending the smaller right-wing march from St James’ Park station to Downing Street said they were exercising their right to peaceful protest.

Many cited their fear that anti-Brexit MPs were conspiring to stop the UK leaving the EU in March, but some said they were campaigning for myriad other reasons – veterans left to live on the streets and the alleged abuse of children in the care system.

Pro-Brexit demonstrators wearing yellow vests marched on Downing Street (Getty Images)

“In France they’re fighting against their establishment and we’re doing the same here,” said one 61-year-old woman, who did not wish to be named.

“People are fed up. This yellow vest (movement) is about a lot of things. Yes, it’s partly about Brexit, but it’s also about political corruption, stolen pensions, food banks and universal credit and the number of homeless people. I don’t think the people at the other march today are so different from us.”

Some individuals waved anti-Islam and anti-immigration placards along with Union Jacks, but several yellow-vest wearers insisted they were not part of a far-right movement. Some chanted: “Not far-right, just right”.

“We had a democratic vote and Theresa May needs to stand up and give us what was promised,” said Cliff Craswell, a 67-year-old from London. “You could say this is right-wing (protest), but it’s not an extremist thing. We’re sick of being called Nazis and racists and all the rest of it.”

About 50 pro-Brexit yellow vest demonstrators gathered in Redcar on Saturday to demand local Labour MP Anna Turley quit over her call for a Final Say vote on the issue.

In Belfast, meanwhile, yellow vests were worn by around 200 left-wing activists who demanded an end to austerity policies and action on a range of social issues, highlighting the vague and unsettled nature of the protest movement as it moves across the English Channel.

Demonstrators from left and right wing groups clash in Trafalgar Square (Getty Images)

As tensions over Brexit intensify ahead of Tuesday’s vote in the House of Commons, police have reportedly deployed patrols outside some MPs constituency offices, according to a report in The Times.

Some pro-Brexit activists have used closed social media groups to discuss how to single-out Remainer MPs and “get them out of office,” the report added.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police told The Independent: “We will deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse against anyone where that harassment or abuse constitutes a criminal offence.

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“Officers in the (Westminster) area have been briefed to intervene appropriately where they hear or see breaches of the law.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell addressing the anti-austerity protesters in Trafalgar Square later in the afternoon and told the crowd he expected MPs to defeat the prime minister’s Brexit deal on Tuesday.

Mr McDonnell said that then, when “the time is right,” his party would move a motion of no confidence to “bring this government down… It’s now here before us, we could have a socialist prime minister”.

The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.

Sign our petition here

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