HUNDREDS of thousands of people from all over the UK marched peacefully on London’s Parliament Square on October 20th last demanding a London’s Parliament Square – the largest since the protest against the Iraq war in 2003.
Stewards estimate more than 700,000 people attended the rally, calling for a ‘people’s vote.’ Addressing the crowds, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said ‘today will go down as an historic moment in our democracy … a moment when in their thousands, people from every corner of our country and every section of society will take to the streets – coming to make our voice heard. What’s really important is that those who said that a public vote is undemocratic, is unpatriotic, realise that in fact, the exact opposite is the truth,’ the Labour politician from Tooting, South London, added.
A Downing Street source is quoted as saying there would be ‘no second referendum’: ‘We had a people’s vote in 2016 … a second referendum would really be a politicians’ vote – politicians telling the people they got it wrong the first time and should try again … that would do lasting damage to faith in democracy.’
The march coincided with a pro-Brexit rally in Harrogate, organised by the group ‘Leave Means Leave’ led by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, where only around a thousand people attended. The London call came after a key Summit in Brussels on October 17th and 18th, where British Premier Theresa May failed to agree a divorce deal with EU leaders, but hinted she could back a delay to the post-Brexit transition, due to end in December 2020, for a ‘matter of months’ in a bid to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
May indicated she was not ruling out the UK remaining in the single market and customs union until the end of 2021, potentially costing the country as much as £10 billion in additional contributions to the EU budget.
• Rose O’Donovan is the Editor-in-Chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS and a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu
‘We are just not there yet’
ON her arrival in Brussels on the evening of October 17th last, the Conservative Party leader called for ‘courage, trust and friendship’ from both sides, ahead of the pre-Summit dinner, to which she was not invited, and the European Council the day after.
May dined at the UK Ambassador’s residence on the eve of the Summit as EU leaders from the remaining 27 countries discussed Brexit. She met Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Council President Donald Tusk and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, before a 30-minute session with heads of state and government to discuss the main bone of contention – the backstop mechanism.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he needs ‘much more time’ to get a deal. Negotiating teams ‘have been working a lot to get an agreement in the past few weeks, days and nights … but we are not there yet,’ the former Commissioner said.
‘Brexit must be orderly, for everyone and for all the issues, including on the island of Ireland … so we need time, much more time … and we will continue to work in the next weeks calmly and patiently.’
Varadkar said he could support a prolonged transition to provide more time to develop a temporary customs arrangement between the EU and UK. But, it ‘could not be a substitute for the backstop,’ the Fine Gael leader said. Following the three-hour meal, which included wheat beer braised fillet of turbot, EU leaders said ‘not enough progress had been achieved’ and decided against an extraordinary Summit in mid-November. But they stand ready to convene a meeting if and when Barnier declares ‘decisive progress’ has been made.
Heads of state and government re-affirmed full confidence in the French politician and encouraged him to continue efforts to reach a deal in accordance with previously agreed Council guidelines. They will meet again just before Christmas (December 13th and 14th) where hopes are high of a deal.