The protesters, some having traveled for hours from around the United Kingdom to get to the capital, waved EU flags under sunny skies and held placards that employed creativity and wit.
The crowd clogged vast stretches of central London, with thousands of people waiting to begin the march at Hyde Park by the time others had reached parliament as lawmakers held the first Saturday session since the 1982 Falklands war.
“I am incensed that we are not being listened to. Nearly all the polls show that now people want to remain in the EU. We feel that we are voiceless,” said Hannah Barton, 56, a cider maker from central England, who was draped in an EU flag.
Editorial: If parliament cannot decide on Brexit, then the people must
After more than three years of tortuous debate, it is still uncertain how, when or even if Brexit will happen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to pass his new Brexit deal and plots a way out of the deepest political crisis in a generation.
While Brexit has divided families, parties, parliament and the country, both sides agree Saturday and the coming days could be some of the most important in recent British history: a juncture that could shape the fate of the United Kingdom for generations.
EU supporters march as parliament sits on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, to discuss Brexit in London, Britain, October 19, 2019. SIMON DAWSON / REUTERS
Hundreds of thousands of Britons marched through London on Saturday to demand a new Brexit referendum, saying their views were being ignored as lawmakers in parliament decided the fate of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Lawmakers voted to withhold support for the Brexit deal until formal ratification legislation has passed, a step that will oblige Johnson to seek a delay.
As the crowd watched events in parliament unfold on large screens and mobile phones they cheered and shouted “people’s vote” as they viewed the result as another chance to stop Brexit.
James McGrory, director of the Peoples Vote campaign, which organised the march, said ahead of the protest the government should heed the anger of pro-Europeans and hold another referendum on EU membership.
Many protesters carried placards, some comparing Brexit to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. Some wore elaborate costumes with one dressed as a banana holding a sign saying “we are ‘ripe’ for change.”
As the marchers advanced some blew whistles and erupted in shouts of “Stop Brexit.” A percussion band played and a gathering sang the EU’s anthem “Ode to Joy.”
James McGrory, director of the People’s Vote campaign, which organized the march, said ahead of the protest the government should heed the anger of pro-Europeans and hold another referendum on EU membership.
“This new deal bears no resemblance to what people were promised and so it is only right that the public deserve another chance to have their say,” he said.
The government source said Johnson sent a total of three letters to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council: a photocopy of the text that the law, known as the Benn Act, forced him to write; a cover note from Britains EU envoy; and a third letter in which he said he did not want an extension.
Campaigners are confident that the protest will rival a similar demonstration in March when organizers said 1 million people took to the streets. A rally this size would be among the largest ever in Britain.
Johnson has previously promised that he would take the country out of the bloc on Oct. 31, and would rather be dead in a ditch than ask for any extension without explaining how he would do this while also complying with the Benn Act.
London’s police said it does not provide an estimates for the size of rallies because it is an “inexact science,” but tweeted pictures showing streets and the square outside parliament crammed with protesters.
The mood of protesters ranged from anger to despair. Many railed against political leaders championing Brexit for being elite and out of touch.
Some were young people who were unable to vote during the 2016 referendum and described the fight for another vote as the defining political event of their lives.
“If we leave the EU this is not the end of this, we will keep fighting to rejoin until that happens,” said Victoria Paynter, 17, who held a sign “check us before you wreck us.”
Some opinion polls have shown a slight shift in favor of remaining in the EU, but there has yet to be a decisive change in attitudes and many voters say they have become increasingly bored by Brexit.
Since July 2017 there have been 226 polls asking people whether they support Leave or Remain, according to a poll of polls by YouGov published last week. Of those, 204 have put support for remaining in the EU ahead, seven have given a lead to leave and a few have been tied.
Other polls suggest most voters have not changed their mind: 50% of the public want to respect the referendum result, 42% want Britain to remain in the EU and 8% said they don’t know, the largest Brexit poll since 2016 carried out by ComRes found.
The challenge for pro-referendum forces is finding enough support in parliament, and even if another referendum were agreed, it would take months to organize and there would be disputes about the question – and the result would be impossible to predict.
Without the blackmail of that cliff edge, it is very unlikely that the legislation needed to implement the deal can be passed in eight sitting days. Johnsons strategy has been to offer contradictory reassurances to sympathetic Labour MPs and to his own partys hard Eurosceptics. To the former, he has issued assurances that the UK will remain aligned to the EU on workers rights, consumer protections and environmental standards. But the Conservative right support this deal as the route to a hard Brexit; they take comfort from the fact that Johnson has moved commitments to a level regulatory playing field from the legally binding withdrawal agreement to the political declaration. He cannot at once deliver a Brexit that unites Labour rebels and the Economic Research Group; that keeps the UK aligned to the EU but also allows the UK to undercut Europe through aggressive deregulation. Oliver Letwins amendment to delay a decision until MPs can scrutinise the legislation makes Johnsons attempts to win support by promising different things to different people immeasurably harder.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson grudgingly asked the European Union late Saturday to delay Brexit after the U.K. Parliament postponed a decision on whether to back his divorce deal. But the defiant Johnson also made clear that he personally opposed delaying the U.K.'s exit, scheduled for Oct. 31.
A law passed by Parliament last month set a late-night deadline for the government to send a letter asking the EU for a three-month postponement if lawmakers had not approved an agreement with the bloc by Saturday. An hour before the deadline, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react."
Johnson made clear he was making the request under duress. The letter requesting an extension was not signed. It was accompanied by a second letter, signed by Johnson, arguing that delay would "damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners."
Earlier in the day, Johnson told lawmakers that "further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy."
French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to agree. Macron's office said he spoke to Johnson by phone and insisted on the need for "quick clarification of the British position on the accord." The president's office said Macron indicated to the British prime minister that "a delay would be in no one's interest."
At a rare weekend sitting of Parliament, lawmakers voted 322-306 to withhold their approval of the Brexit deal until legislation to implement it has been passed.
The vote sought to ensure that the U.K. cannot crash out of the EU without a deal on the scheduled departure date. Johnson, who struck the agreement with the EU earlier this week, said he was not "daunted or dismayed" by the result and would continue to do all he can to get Brexit done in less than two weeks.
Yesterday was no different: MPs were disgracefully given just a few hours to scrutinise the terms of the most important decision the country has faced in decades. But he miscalculated badly. Parliament reasserted its sovereignty, voting to withhold approval of his EU deal until MPs have a chance to scrutinise the relevant legislation, effectively forcing him by law to request an extension from the EU.
Parliament's first weekend sitting since the Falklands War of 1982 had been dubbed "Super Saturday." It looked set to bring Britain's Brexit saga to a head, more than three years after the country's divisive decision to leave the EU.
But the government's hopes were derailed when House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he would allow a vote on an amendment to put the vote on the deal off until another day.
The amendment makes support for the deal conditional on passage of the legislation to implement it, 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 in Parliament.
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The government still hopes it can pass the needed legislation by the end of the month so the U.K. can leave on time.
The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said the government would hold a debate Monday on its Brexit-implementing legislation — effectively a second attempt to secure approval for the deal.
It's unclear whether that would be allowed under House of Commons rules against holding repeated votes on the same question. Bercow said he would make a ruling Monday.
The vote was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of anti-Brexit demonstrators who 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 subways and buses for the last-ditch effort.
"Another chance for sanity and perhaps rationality to take over, rather than emotion," filmmaker Jove Lorenty said as he stood outside Parliament. "Never give up until the fat lady sings. No one knows what will happen, but we have hope."
Johnson, who came to power in July vowing to get Brexit finished, called any delay to Britain's departure pointless, expensive and corrosive of public trust. And he warned that the bloc's approval could not be guaranteed.
PreviousNextHide captionToggle Fullscreen1 of 0 "There is very little appetite among our friends in the EU for this business to be protracted by one extra day," Johnson said. "They have had three-and-a-half years of this debate."
"It will be for the U.K. government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible," EU Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva tweeted.
When push comes to shove, the EU seems likely to grant an extension if needed to avoid a disruptive no-deal Brexit.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country saw the vote as a delay, rather than a rejection of the Brexit deal. For EU leaders, avoiding a chaotic, no-deal Brexit should be the "top priority," he said in a tweet.
And the European Parliament's chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, noted that time was now tight to get the deal approved by the EU legislature before Oct. 31, meaning a short delay might be needed.
If Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in time, Britain could still leave by the end of October. The government plans to introduce the bill next week and could hold late-night sittings of Parliament in hope of getting it passed within days.
But Johnson must win over a fractious and divided Parliament, which three times rejected the Brexit plan negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May.
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.
To make up for the votes of 10 DUP lawmakers, Johnson has tried to persuade members of the left-of-centre 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 deal is not good for jobs, damaging for industry and a threat to our environment and natural world," he said. "Supporting the government this afternoon would merely fire the starting pistol in a race to the bottom in regulations and standards."
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