LONDON (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Organizers want the public to have a final say on the government’s Brexit deal with the EU, arguing that new facts have come to light about the costs and complexity of Britain’s exit from the bloc since Britons voted to leave in 2016.
Some 150 buses ferried thousands of activists from across the country to the British capital, and organizers estimated that over 500,000 took part.
“What’s clear is that the only options on the table now from the prime minister are a bad Brexit deal, or no deal whatsoever,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who joined the “People’s Vote March,” told the BBC. “That’s a million miles away from what was promised 2 1/2 years ago.”
Khan said Saturday’s protest was a “march for the future” for young Britons, including those who were too young to vote in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, when those who favored leaving the bloc won narrowly by 52 percent to 48 percent.
The mayor, from the opposition Labour Party, has previously backed mounting calls for a fresh referendum so that the public can have a say on whether they accept Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal or choose to stay in the EU.
May, the leader of Britain’s Conservatives, has ruled out another public vote on the subject.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but negotiations over the divorce have been plagued by disagreements, particularly over the future border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will be the UK’s only land border with the EU after Brexit, for Ireland is part of the EU and Northern Ireland is part of the UK.
One of the great accomplishments of the 1998 peace deal that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland was to dismantle the police and military presence at the border with Ireland. Many on both sides do not want a hard border again.
There are also growing fears of a “no-deal” British exit, which could create chaos at the borders and in the EU and the British economies.
May, speaking at an inconclusive EU summit in Brussels this week, said she would consider having a longer post-Brexit transition period — one that could keep Britain aligned to EU rules and obligations for more than two years after its March departure. Pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, however, saw it as an attempt to bind the country to the bloc indefinitely.
“This week’s fresh chaos and confusion over Brexit negotiations has exposed how even the best deal now available will be a bad one for Britain,” said Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords. “Voters will neither forgive nor forget if (lawmakers) allow this miserable Brexit to proceed without people being given the final say.”