London protests cause gridlock as Brexit vote raises tensions
UK police confirmed five arrests were made during pro-Brexit protests in London that lasted into Friday night.
Demonstrators blocked streets around the Houses of Parliament in central London as lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal for a third time, on the day that the UK was originally meant to leave the European Union.
Metropolitan Police tweeted that by 9 p.m. local time, two people had been arrested for assault, one for being drunk and disorderly, one for assaulting a police officer, and one who was wanted for an offense in another part of the country.
Marchers carried placards, bearing slogans including “No deal is better than a bad deal,” “Every nation has the right to self-determination” and “Leave means Leave.”
Others chanted “This country has turned into a dictatorship” and “we want our Brexit back.”
“I think it’s a scandal. We voted to have a referendum… leaves means leave,” one protester told CNN.
Rejecting the prospect of a second referendum to find a way forward, he added: “It’s like a football game … when a team scores eight goals and another team scores nine goals, the team that scores nine goals is the winner.”
Another protester said: “I have come to make a stand and prove a point that the government are traitors to democracy. They have gone against the will of the people… Our opinions mean nothing to them. Theresa May is the worst prime minister the country has ever seen. She has no backbone. I know eels with more backbone.”
Certain MPs expressed concern over the protest and reported feeling intimidated outside Parliament. Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP, wrote on Twitter: “I’m just outside parliament just now. Very intimidatory atmosphere. Currently prevented from getting to College Green to do media.”
In a second tweet, she added: “I made it having run the gauntlet to shouts of ‘traitor’… very important that freedom of speech survives the forces of intimidation amongst the Brexit mayhem.”
Demonstrators were flanked by police, including some on horseback, and officers were seen leaving nearby Downing Street in riot gear. The protesters were also followed by nine police trucks and a helicopter overhead.
Friday’s protest was the final leg of the 270-mile long March to Leave rally, which began in the town of Sunderland in the northeast of England on March 16. The first leg was led by Brexit architect Nigel Farage, the former head of the pro-Brexit UKIP party. He was present to greet protesters as they approached Parliament Square.
The protest comes after Prime Minister May was forced to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, after her Withdrawal Agreement was twice rejected in the House of Commons.
MPs rejected her Withdrawal Agreement for a third time Friday, likely consigning her deal to history and raising the possibility of a no-deal Brexit or a much longer Brexit extension.
Farage addressed the crowd following the result of the’ vote, saying that Leave campaigners would fight on in the event that politicians attempted to delay or revoke Britain’s exit.
“What they want is to beat us down, what they want is us to give up, what they want is us to go away,” he said. “Am I disheartened. Am I downcast? No, I am more determined than ever.
“If they force us to fight a second referendum, we will beat them with a bigger margin.”
Multiple protests groups were present at the pro-Brexit rally, according to Press Association. It included current UKIP leader Gerard Batten and far-right English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson, who made speeches on a separate stage on Whitehall.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, told the crowd: “So Theresa May has lost her vote. Many people will be asking what does that even mean. It means we were betrayed. Today is supposed to be our independence day.
“What we do know is that if we do not leave the EU it will mark the end of democracy in the UK.”
After the speeches, a crowd of Robinson’s supporters were filmed shoving members of the press, including a CNN cameraman and producer.