A group representing The Independent’s Final Say campaign handed over the petition, along with another one including more than 337,000 names collected by the People’s Vote initiative, as Theresa May prepared for what is set to be a bruising five-day Commons debate on her Brexit deal.
Pressure for a new referendum is increasing ahead of the vote that will come at the end of that debate next week, with the prime minister looking at a heavy personal defeat if MPs reject the deal she agreed with the EU.
Anger over her deal increased on Monday, when the government published a legal paper confirming that under Ms May’s plan, the UK will be indefinitely locked in to the controversial ‘backstop’ arrangement.
Campaigners carrying EU flags and placards chanted calls for a new referendum as they met outside the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster, before marching to No10 to deliver the petitions on Monday morning.
Conservative ex-cabinet minister Justine Greening said: “Britain has choices ahead of it. The key issue that we’re saying today, and that’s why we’re delivering a petition signed by a million people in this country, is that those choices are ones that should be made by the British people.
“Parliament is gridlocked ... This is no way to decide the most fundamental question facing Britain for the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years.
“It is time that we now put the clear choices to the British people and allow them to decide.”
The two documents were handed in to officials at 11am by Ms Greening, politicians from three other parties and The Independent‘s editor Christian Broughton.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna, a champion of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “The biggest issue that we’ve had since the Second World War is being left to MPs. And the problem we have with MPs in parliament, is that they can’t come to a view of what should happen in this situation.
“The bottom line is how else are you going to resolve impasse in Westminster if not by referring it back to the people. I don’t know anyone who has come up with a viable alternative.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the “let’s-just-get-on-with-it” attitude is a “fallacy”, because “even if we accept the government’s deal we’re not just getting on with it”.
“We’ll be spending years in negotiation of what kind of arrangement we’d want with the European Union – the problem isn’t going to go away,” he said.
The prime minister has repeatedly said that she will not countenance a further referendum on Brexit. But with no option carrying a majority in the Commons, a new vote has become a more likely way to break the political deadlock.
Referring to calls for a new referendum on Monday, Ms May said: “People are talking about a second vote when we haven’t even delivered on the first vote.
“I think we need to deliver on the first vote. We asked people to vote. We said ‘please decide whether we should leave or remain’.
“People voted to leave and I think there’s a, sort of, democratic duty on us as politicians, having had that referendum, and having said it is your choice, to actually deliver on it. So, let’s deliver on the first vote.”
In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister updated MPs on her trip to the G20 in Argentina, where she said she made clear to president Donald Trump that the UK will be able to do a trade deal with the US after Brexit.
She said the working group between the US and UK examining the future trade arrangements has been “making good progress”.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed out that such a deal would be difficult under the “backstop”, which the government’s own legal advice admits the UK could be indefinitely locked into.
The most controversial issue in Ms May’s withdrawal agreement is over the “backstop”, setting out what happens to keep the Irish border open if no trade deal is secured by the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.
Under the plan, the whole UK would stay in a customs union, but the legal document released on Monday confirms that this set up would continue to apply “unless and until it is superseded” by a subsequent agreement.
“In the absence of such a provision, it is not possible under international law for a party to withdraw from the agreement unilaterally.”
Ms May will on Tuesday kick off the five-day debate leading up to the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal, due on 11 December. In recent days she has outlined how her proposals will deliver on the public’s desire to end EU free movement.
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