Hundreds of thousands of people opposed to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU marched through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum as the deepening Brexit crisis risked sinking Prime Minister Theresa May’s premiership.
Pro-EU demonstrators gathered for a “Put it to the people march” at Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park around midday before marching past the prime minister’s office in Downing Street and finishing outside parliament.
Organisers estimate that up to 1 million people took part in the march demanding another vote on leaving the bloc.
An online official petition to cancel Brexit gained over 4 million signatures in just three days this week.
After almost three years of tortuous debate, it is still uncertain how, when or even if Brexit will happen as May tries to plot a way out of the gravest UK political crisis in at least a generation.
Pressure on May to resign?
May hinted on Friday that she might not bring her twice-defeated EU divorce deal back to parliament next week, leaving her Brexit strategy in meltdown. The Times and The Daily Telegraph reported that pressure was growing on May to resign.
A Downing Street source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the reports were incorrect.
“News to me,” the source said. “No, it’s not correct.”
The Times quoted an unidentified Downing Street source saying that even her closest allies believed it was inevitable she would have to resign.
Brexit created a ‘dangerous atmosphere’
Hosted by the People’s Vote pressure group, Saturday’s protest follows a similar demonstration in October that drew an estimated half a million people.
Organisers arranged transport and even chartered a train to bring protesters from all corners of the country to the capital. Two hundred coaches from around Britain were booked to take people to London for the march. One coach left the Scottish Highlands on Friday evening and another left from Cornwall on England’s western tip early on Saturday morning.
Stephen Goodall, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, travelled 200 miles (300 kilometres) by train from southwest England alongside four generations of his family including his great-granddaughter.
“I am an old man and the outcome won’t affect me – but it will affect my family and many people that I know for years to come,” he said.
The marchers included 63-year-old Edmund Sides, who spent the last three weeks walking from Wales to London in order to take part.
Sides, a geologist, said, “People fear the atmosphere is very dangerous in this country.”
Gareth Rae, 59, who travelled from Bristol to attend the demonstration, told Reuters: “I would feel differently if this was a well-managed process and the government was taking sensible decisions. But it is complete chaos.”
“The country will be divided whatever happens, and it is worse to be divided on a lie.”
‘Never gonna give EU up’
Phoebe Poole, 18, who was holding a placard saying “Never gonna give EU up”, in reference to a song by 1980s popstar Rick Astley, wasn’t old enough to vote in the 2016 referendum.
“We have come here today because we feel like our future has been stolen from us. It is our generation that is going to have to live with the consequences of this disaster,” she told Reuters.
“It is going to make it harder to get a job. You are already seeing a lot of large companies leaving. I am worried about the future.”
Brexit is biggest challenge since WWII
While the country and its politicians are divided over Brexit, most agree it is the most important strategic decision the United Kingdom has faced since World War II.
In the June 23, 2016, referendum, 17.4 million voters (52 percent) backed Brexit while 16.1 million (48 percent) backed staying in the bloc.
But ever since, opponents of Brexit have been exploring ways to hold another referendum.
May has repeatedly ruled out holding another Brexit referendum, saying it would deepen divisions and undermine support for democracy. Brexit supporters say a second referendum would trigger a major constitutional crisis.
“We already put it to the people. And the people roared,” pro-leave group Change Britain said in a tweet.
Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term Britain would thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity that is falling far behind other major powers.
Many voters in Britain say they have become increasingly bored by Brexit and May said on Wednesday that they want this stage of the Brexit process to be “over and done with”.
But protesters disagreed with May’s claim that she is on the side of the British public, with one placard on Saturday reading: “You do not speak for us, Theresa.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)