London pro-EU rally keeps Brexit debate alive amid tough talks
(Bloomberg) -- Demonstrators opposed to Britain’s departure from the European Union took to London’s streets by the thousands on Saturday, seeking to add pressure on a government under attack over its Brexit plan.
Waving star-studded blue European flags and wearing stickers with slogans such as "Bollocks to Brexit," they marched through the center of the U.K. capital to advocate for a rejection of the country’s planned break with the bloc, videos posted by protesters on Twitter showed.
Vince Cable, the leader of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, rallied a crowd of party activists at the event.
"We’ve got to absolutely stop the extreme Brexit which this incompetent, disunited government is trying to force upon us," Cable said, according to an emailed copy of his remarks. "There is a lot of uncertainty, and this can be stopped if we choose to stop the process of Brexit."
The protest highlights challenges facing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy at home and abroad.
May has contended with a leak of draft new immigration rules, while the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge a new legal regime and talks with Brussels remained stalemated.
About 150,000 people were expected to attend by organisers, according to a report by the Docklands & East London Advertiser newspaper.
The demonstration on Saturday is part of a so-called Autumn of Discontent planned by pro-EU groups. Additional protests are scheduled for the Labour Party conference this month in Brighton and next month’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Those who want to stay in the EU sense an opportunity after May called an election in June, only for voters to strip her Tories of their parliamentary majority. Contentious negotiations with the EU and signs the economy is slowing are also helping foment support for remaining.
The government and Labour Party are still committed to pulling the UK out of the bloc in March 2019. Polling data also suggest another referendum might not reverse the decision. A Opinium survey last month for the Observer newspaper signalled a second referendum would result in a vote to stay, but only narrowly with 47 percent support.
The same survey showed almost half against holding another ballot and other polls report many who chose to stay last year now want to get on with the withdrawal.
Economists at Morgan Stanley this week said they saw only a 10 percent chance of Brexit being derailed.
Where marches may have some influence is by pushing the government to negotiate a lengthy transition from the bloc. Even pro-Brexit lawmakers have dialled back criticism of such an interim period although they maintain it should be short.
In London, lawmakers are preparing to vote next week on a landmark act designed to create a new legal system to come into force when the U.K. leaves the EU, dubbed the Withdrawal Bill.