London, United Kingdom – Over a million people are expected to demonstrate in London on Saturday, on what is anticipated to be one of the most momentous days in the Brexit political drama so far.
His hopes of getting the deal through Parliament were dealt a blow when his Northern Ireland ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, said it would not back him. The party says Johnson’s Brexit package — which carves out special status for Northern Ireland to keep an open border with EU member Ireland — is bad for the region and weakens its bonds with the rest of the U.K.
U.K. lawmakers vote to delay Brexit deal approval
The march organised by the Peoples Vote campaign is thought to be the largest yet, drawing anti-Brexit supporters from across the country on the day British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will put the revised EU divorce deal before MPs – with Parliament sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands conflict in the 1980s.
“I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so,” Johnson said. “I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days that I’ve served as prime minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy.”
Protesters struggled to make their way out of jammed underground stations to join the march, which set off as customary from Hyde Park to make its way down to Trafalgar Square and on to the Houses of Parliament.
There was drama both inside Parliament and outside, where tens of thousands of anti-Brexit demonstrators marched to Parliament Square, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU or remain. Protesters, many wearing blue berets emblazoned with yellow stars symbolizing the EU flag, poured out of subway trains and buses for the last-ditch effort.
Brexit: Decision day – sort of
They held placards such as “Im 17 and Brexit stole my future” and “UK and Northern Ireland at peace not in pieces”, referring to Johnsons deal, which sets out a revised plan for Northern Ireland, a major stumbling block in the previous withdrawal agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May.
Two previous marches have attracted between half a million and a million people. A record number of coaches – more than 170 – were booked to ferry protesters from across the country, some of them sponsored by local celebrities.
As thousands of European Union flags fluttered on the streets of the capital – an unthinkable sight before the referendum that divided the UK in 2016 – the prime minister urged MPs in the Commons to “heal the rift in British politics” by voting for his deal.
The amendment makes support for the deal conditional on the legislation to implement it being passed by Parliament, something that could take several days or weeks. It also gives lawmakers another chance to scrutinize — and possibly change — the Brexit departure terms while the legislation is passing through Parliament.
The vote comes just two weeks before the new Brexit deadline of October 31, with Johnson attempting to ratchet up last minutes support for the deal he secured with the EU on Thursday.
The vote is expected to be knife-edge, with the opposition Labour MPs, who support leaving the EU, as well as 21 Tory rebels the prime minister expelled in September for voting to prevent a no-deal Brexit likely holding the key to the outcome.
But as protesters head to the Houses of Parliament, an amendment tabled by one of the rebels, Sir Oliver Letwin, might change the game altogether, if passed, by allowing MPs to withhold support for the deal until all necessary legislation to implement it is passed.
This would automatically trigger the provisions of the Benn Act, which requires the prime minister to seek a further extension until January 31 should he be unable to get the deal through Parliament by today.
The date of the Final Say march, calling for a second Brexit referendum, was set to coincide with this deadline.
“The day is extremely significant,” Femi Oluwole, co-founder of Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), a youth advocacy group part of the Peoples Vote campaign, told Al Jazeera.
Johnson called any delay to Britain’s Brexit departure date “pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust.” And he warned Saturday that the bloc’s approval could not be guaranteed.
“If the deal doesnt pass … will Boris Johnson ask for an extension period? At that point, well be in more chaos.”
The EU’s budget commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper that if British lawmakers reject Johnson’s Brexit deal, the U.K. is likely to leave the bloc with no deal.
“A general election wouldnt actually solve anything,” Ludo Sappa-Cohen, a spokesperson for another anti-Brexit group taking part in the march on Saturday, Best for Britain, explained.
“Its quite likely it would end up in a hung parliament, then youve got the same gridlock in Westminster as you have today. It would be divisive, not decisive. A second referendum is much more likely to unlock political progress. It makes sense, three years down the line, to give people the final say.”
Simon Usherwood, deputy director of the academic think-tank UK in a Changing Europe, explained that the Letwin amendment effectively “avoids parliament falling into a situation where it gave an approval to the deal, but then it couldnt guarantee legislation would be done in time for the October deadline.”
“As well as having this vote, the UK needs to pass a withdrawal agreement bill, which nobody has seen the text of, and which will have major constitutional implications,” Usherwood told Al Jazeera.
“The government still doesnt have a majority in Parliament. The chances that piece of legislation could get through by the end of the month look relatively small, even with the pressure [of a possible no-deal outcome].”
At a special session of Parliament intended to ratify the deal, lawmakers voted 322-306 to withhold their approval on the Brexit deal until legislation to implement it has been passed.
Sally Patterson, a 23-year-old student walking down to Westminster, said, “The country is in chaos and no one voted for this kind of mess.”
“I think what we need is a peoples vote because no one knows what is happening any more. What people voted for four years ago now, its not necessarily what they believe now with all the facts on the table,” Patterson, who is a campaigner with the student group For Our Futures Sake (FFS), added.
“Even if that vote ends up [to be in favour of] leaving the EU, at least well know thats what the people want.”
Simon Blandel, a 53-year-old retired teacher, said he wanted to be part of the EU. “Although Europe isnt perfect, you cant change it without being in it,” he said.
British legislators have voted to postpone a decision on whether to back a Brexit deal with the European Union, throwing a wrench into government plans to leave the bloc at the end of this month.
Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, failed three times to get lawmakers behind her Brexit plan.
At a special session of Parliament intended to ratify the deal, MPs instead voted 322-306 to withhold their approval until legislation to implement the agreement has been passed.
The vote is a major blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and means he has to ask the EU to delay Britain's departure. Parliament last month passed a law compelling him to do that if a deal had not been passed by Saturday.
The move is intended to ensure the U.K. can't crash out of the EU without a deal on the scheduled Oct. 31 departure date. However, Johnson said he is "not daunted or dismayed" by the vote and will try to push ahead to meet the deadline.
"I will not negotiate a delay with the EU," Johnson said after results of the vote were announced, "and neither does the law compel me to do so."
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said Parliament has "clearly voted" to stop a "no-deal crash-out," and the prime minister "must now comply with the law."
The government still hopes it can pass the needed legislation by the end of the month so the U.K. can leave as scheduled.
Earlier, Johnson implored MPs to ratify the deal he struck this week with the other 27 EU leaders. He said members of the House of Commons should "come together as democrats to end this debilitating feud" that has racked the country for more than three years.
"Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together … as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting," Johnson said.
The prime minister signalled that he would only seek a delay from the EU for Britain's departure under duress. He said further delay is "pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust."
Since striking a deal with the EU on Thursday, Johnson has been imploring and arm-twisting both Conservative and opposition legislators as he tries to win majority support for his deal.
Johnson was hoping for backing of the deal after his predecessor, Theresa May, failed three times to get legislators behind her plan.
He said in The Sun newspaper on Saturday that a vote for the plan would bring a "painful chapter in our history" to an end.
As legislators gathered inside Parliament — their first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War — tens of thousands of anti-Brexit demonstrators were expected to march on the building, calling for a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.
The protesters, many wearing blue berets emblazoned with yellow stars symbolizing the EU flag, poured out of subway trains and buses for the march to Parliament Square. Some demonstrators had bells strapped to their legs and wielded sticks as they performed a traditional Morris dance and chanted: "Morris, not Boris!" to cheers from onlookers.
Organizers of the "People's Vote" march say they want a second referendum on the terms of the U.K. prime minister's deal.
Johnson's hopes of getting the deal through Parliament were dealt a blow when his Northern Ireland ally, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said it would not back him. The party says Johnson's Brexit package — which carves out special status for Northern Ireland to keep an open border with EU member Ireland — is bad for the region and its bonds with the rest of the U.K.
"We will not be supporting the government, we will be voting against," said the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds. "Because it isn't Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom."
To make up for the votes of 10 DUP legislators, Johnson has tried to persuade members of the Labour Party to support the deal. Late Friday the government promised to bolster protections for the environment and workers' rights, to allay Labour fears that the Conservative government plans to slash those protections after Brexit.
"This empty gesture is not worth the paper it's written on," said Labour employment spokeswoman Laura Pidcock.
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