LONDON, Oct 19 — The battle over Brexit spilled onto the streets of London today when tens of thousands of people gathered to demand a new referendum while lawmakers decided the fate of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Protesters waving EU flags and carrying signs calling for Brexit to be halted gathered at London’s Park Lane before a march through the centre of the capital to parliament.
“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.
“This is a national disaster waiting to happen and it is going to destroy the economy.”
Many protesters carried placards, some comparing Brexit to the election of US President Donald Trump. Some wore elaborate costumes with one group dressed as fruit and vegetables.
There were also papier mache models mocking politicians such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I don’t like the sort of place the country is becoming. We have become a more angry country than before the referendum,” said Phil Canney, 33, a mechanical engineer.
“If what Johnson is putting to parliament today was the argument in the referendum they would have lost by a landslide. They have taken the result and run away with it to excuse anything they want to do.”
After more than three years of tortuous debate, it is still uncertain how, when or even if Brexit will happen as Johnson tries to pass his new EU divorce deal and plots a way out of the deepest political crisis in a generation.
The protesters, from around the United Kingdom, will march to parliament as lawmakers prepare to vote in the first Saturday session since the 1982 Falklands war.
James McGrory, director of the People’s Vote campaign, which organised the march, said ahead of the protest that 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.
While Brexit has divided families, parties, parliament and the country, both sides agree Saturday could be one of the most important days in recent British history: a juncture that could shape the fate of the United Kingdom for generations.
Campaigners are confident that the number of people on the streets will rival a similar demonstration in March, when organisers said 1 million people took to the streets. A rally this size would be among the largest ever in Britain.
More than 170 coaches from around Britain were due to arrive in London taking people to the march. Nine coaches left Scotland yesterday and four left Cornwall on England’s western tip early today.
In 2016, 17.4 million voters, or 52%, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48%, backed staying in the EU.
Some opinion polls have shown a slight shift in favour 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.
However, other polls suggests 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.
Supporters of Brexit say holding another referendum would deepen divisions and undermine democracy.
A group of lawmakers in the main opposition Labour Party have put forward an amendment calling for approval of any deal to be put to a second referendum.
The challenge for pro-referendum forces is finding enough support in parliament. In April, when the government held a series of votes on various Brexit options, a second referendum was the most popular, but fell short of a majority losing 292 to 280.
Even if another referendum were agreed, it would take months to organise and there would be disputes about the question. — Reuters