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Brexit: ‘One million’ protesters join historic march for second referendum, telling MPs: ‘Give decision back to the people’

‘Have a look out of the window prime minister. Open your curtains. Switch on your TV. Here are the people’

Ashley Cowburn,Rob Merrick
Saturday 23 March 2019 19:41 GMT
Aerial footage shows an 800sqm banner of a David Davis quote unveiled during Put it to the People rally in Parliament Square

An estimated 1 million people staged one of the biggest marches in British history to demand a second referendum on Brexit and for the public to have the Final Say on the gathering crisis.

The streets of central London were clogged with protesters from across the country, urging politicians – faced with the country potentially crashing out of the EU in just three weeks’ time – to hand the decision back to the people.

Aerial cameras captured the spectacular scenes of the vast throng winding its way to outside the Houses of Parliament to hear passionate speeches from MPs of all parties.

Perhaps the most dramatic picture was the unfurling of an enormous banner with the pre-referendum words of David Davis, the Brexit-supporting Tory MP: “If a democracy cannot change, it ceases to be a democracy.”

Among the speakers were Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, who called out to Theresa May, saying: “Have a look out of the window prime minister. Open your curtains. Switch on your TV. Here are the people.”

Some in the crowd cried out “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” – the Labour leader, who was later revealed to be campaigning for his party ahead of local elections in Lancashire.

Michael Heseltine, the Conservative grandee, used his speech to express “contempt” for Brexiteers “wrapped in a Union Jack” who invoke Winston Churchill for their cause.

Insisting the wartime prime minister feared isolation, he told the crowd: “I look back over 70 years of peace in Europe, 50 years of European partnership ... parliamentary democracies working together with power based on a shared sovereignty far in excess of anything any one of us could achieve individually.”

The huge numbers put the march on the scale of the 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War – long recognised as the UK’s largest, when anywhere between 750,000 and 2 million attended.

The march came as the beleaguered prime minister fought for her political life, while refusing to guarantee a third “meaningful vote” on her deal will take place, because another thumping defeat looms.

With just 20 days until the first possible exit day imposed by the EU:

* The Conservative deputy chair said the huge march did not “tell us anything we didn’t already know” – although he acknowledged it was “significant and important”.

* A Tory MP called for a secret ballot of his colleagues to force out the prime minister, while others suggested she would have to resign if there was a further Brexit delay.

* Cabinet ministers on both sides of the divide appeared to be preparing to try to oust her if she pivoted to a softer Brexit – or if she refused to let the Commons attempt to.

* Labour MPs protested they were not sent Ms May’s Friday night letter – suggesting the third vote might be pulled – which appeared to have been for Tories only.

* George Osborne joined those suggesting “the emergency stop button” of revoking Article 50 might have to be deployed – as the petition demanding it soared past 4 million signatures – although he preferred a “long delay” to rethink Brexit.

* Senior former civil servants said a “Chilcot-style” inquiry into the “humiliation” of Brexit was increasingly inevitable, along the lines of the probe into the Iraq War debacle.

At the march, Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, used his address to call for Article 50 to be revoked, saying: “The British people didn’t vote for the government to gamble on our future, the British people didn’t vote for the national nightmare that’s been created.”

MPs from five political parties – Labour, Conservatives, Green, Liberal Democrats and the SNP – appeared on the stage together, alongside Anna Soubry from The Independent Group.

They urged their parliamentary colleagues to back any vote for a second referendum and “put country first”, as Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister and SNP leader, claimed the prime minister had pitched “parliament against the people”.

Christian Broughton, the editor of The Independent, told the crowd: “By marching together and staying positive, we show there is a more progressive, engaged, collaborative way for politics to work – and a way out of the Brexit chaos.”

The Independent is campaigning for a fresh public vote through its Final Say campaign, with more than 1.1 million people having signed our petition.

The Independent asked Downing Street if the prime minister would like to comment on the huge march, but received no response.

However, James Cleverly, the Conservatives’ deputy chair, tweeted: “The 2nd referendum march today and the millions of signatures on the revoke A50 petition are significant and important.

“But neither tells us anything we didn’t already know. Millions of people in the UK don’t want Brexit, millions do. And 80%+ of MPs were elected to deliver it.”

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