The government’s petition website crashed several times on Thursday as hundreds of thousands of people voiced their discontent for Theresa May’s plans for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The one million signature mark was passed shortly after the prime minister arrived in Brussels, where she is expected to plead with European leaders to agree a delay on Britain exiting the bloc.
“The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people’,” the petition’s organiser Margaret Anne Georgiadou wrote.
“We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now for remaining in the EU. A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now.”
The Petitions Committee, a cross-party group of MPs appointed to examine petitions to parliament, said the rate of signing was the highest its website had ever had to deal with.
At 12.45pm, the committee said between 80,000 and 100,000 people were trying to simultaneously view the petition page, while 2,000 were signing every second.
The petition first went live on the government website in February, but received little attention until Wednesday evening.
Interest appears to have spiked following Ms May’s statement from Downing Street, in which she blamed MPs for the current impasse threatening to dump Britain out of the EU without a withdrawal deal in a little over a week’s time.
The petition passed 100,000 signatures at 8.30pm, just as the prime minister was beginning her speech, while a million more have added their names in the hours since.
It has also eclipsed the 370,000 signatures attracted on a petition started in November calling for Britain to leave the EU without a deal.
Despite record-breaking interest in the petition over the past 24 hours, senior government figures have already moved to dismiss its importance.
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said she had been made aware the petition site had experienced outages due to high demand.
“Should it reach 17.4 million respondents then I’m sure there would be a very clear case for taking action,” she added.
“But I do understand it is absolutely right that people do have the opportunity to put their views and that can then spark yet another Brexit debate.”
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “possible but highly unlikely” Britain would withdraw Article 50, conceding it was among a “limited list” of options if Ms May’s deal failed to get through the Commons next week.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to rule out the unilateral revocation of Article 50 when asked if he would consider it as a solution to the current crisis in Westminster.
“So far as we are concerned, we think there is an urgency in constructing a majority for an agreeable solution and that’s what we’re concentrating on at the moment,” Mr Corbyn added following a meeting with European leaders in Brussels.
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