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October 20, 2019

Brexit pain continues: Boris beaten again, thousands march for repeat referendum

Top Story

October 20, 2019

LONDON: Tens of thousands of pro-EU protesters from across Britain wielding banners, placards and flags converged on parliament on Saturday, erupting in cheers as MPs forced the government to ask Brussels for another Brexit delay.

Demonstrators rallied near Hyde Park in central London before marching to parliament to call for a second Brexit referendum, in the hope of overturning Britain´s planned departure from the European Union. Walking behind a pink banner proclaiming "together for the final say", they chanted: "What do we want? People´s vote! When do we want it? Now."

"The first referendum was jumping on a train without a destination," said Douglas Hill, 35, from Oxford, south central England, with his Estonian wife and their baby daughter. "Now that we have a destination, we need to have a second referendum."

Another attendee, Theodor Howe, a 20-year-old student in Dundee, eastern Scotland, conceded another poll could be divisive but insisted it was still necessary. "People should have a say in what is going to happen," he said.

The mood was buoyant when news came through that MPs had voted to delay their decision on whether to accept the deal, although the prime minister vowed again he will not negotiate an extension beyond October 31.

The crowd broke into cheers and applause, with demonstrator Philip Dobson telling AFP: "That´s really good, that´s one step away from Brexit. "It could be that the government falls, who knows?"

Thomas Lambert, a rare Brexit supporter wandering among the crowds, said he was "gutted" by the vote, adding: "Another delay is an abomination."

Politicians including John McDonnell, the main opposition Labour Party´s finance spokesman, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, were due to address the crowds.

Organisers from the People´s Vote pressure group laid on 172 buses to bring demonstrators to the British capital, with the cost covered by supporters from sport, business and entertainment, it said.

Khan was among those leading the crowd as it snaked its way towards parliament, which was holding its first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War as the British prime minister tried to win MPs´ backing.

The protesters unveiled an effigy depicting Johnson as a puppet operated by his chief advisor Dominic Cummings -- a highly divisive figure who masterminded the successful 2016 campaign to leave the EU. "It will be our last opportunity to have a final say," said Jane Golding, a lawyer working in Berlin. "Most British abroad didn´t have a say in the last referendum, most Europeans here didn´t have it either. That wrong needs to be righted. Let us vote!"

A smaller counter-protest by Brexit supporters draped in the British flag was also staged in Westminster, with rival demonstrators verbally sparring with each other in the shadow in parliament.

While British MPs voted Saturday to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask the European Union to delay Brexit yet again but he insisted Britain must leave on October 31.

In a day of high drama in the House of Commons, MPs declined to give their backing to the divorce agreement Johnson struck with the EU this week until accompanying legislation has been passed. In doing so, MPs triggered a law requiring Johnson to write to EU leaders asking to delay Brexit to avoid a "no deal" departure in less than two weeks.

The result is a major blow to Johnson, who said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than prolong the tortuous Brexit process that has left Britain in political turmoil since the 2016 EU referendum. But in a typically defiant response, the Conservative leader refused, sparking outrage among opposition MPs -- and fresh uncertainty about what happens next.

"I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so," he told MPs, who were sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War. He said he would tell EU leaders that "further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy".

The Tory party went further, writing in a tweet: "The Prime Minister will not ask for a delay."

Brussels urged Britain to explain its plan as soon as possible while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party opposed the deal, said: "The prime minister must now comply with the law."

Securing the deal at Thursday´s Brussels summit was a personal victory for Johnson, a figurehead in the 2016 Leave campaign who has vowed to deliver Brexit on October 31 come what may. He has spent the last 48 hours frantically trying to persuade MPs to back it, and won support from many of the eurosceptic Conservative MPs who rejected a previous divorce agreement.

But parliament -- like the frustrated public -- is still bitterly divided over how and even if Britain should end four decades of integration with its closest neighbours.

Opposition parties and Johnson´s own Northern Irish allies rejected the text, and joined together to back an amendment brought by former Conservative minister Oliver Letwin.

This amendment made approval of the deal contingent on parliament passing legislation to ratify the text before Britain leaves the EU.

Johnson needed a clear vote in favour of the deal to avoid triggering a law passed against his will last month, requiring him to send a letter asking for a delay of three months to Brexit. If he refuses, he is likely to face a court challenge forcing him to send it.

If EU leaders agree, he must accept, or if they offer an alternative date, he must also accept unless parliament intervenes.

Johnson earlier warned a third Brexit delay was "pointless", adding: "Now is the time to get this thing done." He said he would introduce legislation next week to implement his Brexit deal, expressing hope that if it passes, Britain could still leave on October 31. The first vote could come as soon as Tuesday.

The leader of the main opposition Labour party, which opposed the Brexit deal, echoed this. "We will not back this sell-out deal," Jeremy Corbyn said. He added: "Voting for a deal today won´t end Brexit. It won´t deliver certainty and the people should have the final say."

EU leaders in Brussels this week urged lawmakers to back the deal to allow both sides to move on to discussing their future relationship.

The deal covers Britain´s financial settlement, protects the rights of EU citizens and sets out a post-Brexit transition period potentially until 2022 to allow both sides to agree new trade terms.