LONDON (Reuters) - Around 100,000 supporters of the European Union marched through central London on Saturday to demand that the British government hold a final public vote on the terms of Brexit, organisers said.
Protesters packed the main arteries of the capital, waving British, Irish and European flags and colourful banners to call for a “People’s Vote” on the eventual deal in which Britain leaves the world’s biggest trading bloc.
On the second anniversary of the 52 to 48 percent Brexit vote, polls show political divisions are entrenched. Despite some confusion over what Brexit will actually mean there has been no clear change of heart.
The “People’s Vote” campaign, which includes several pro-EU groups, is campaigning for a public ballot “so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off”.
Neither of Britain’s two main political parties back the idea of holding a referendum on the final deal.
“People have seen politicians making a cataclysmic mess of a really bad deal they didn’t vote for, or even a no deal they didn’t vote for,” a spokesman for the campaign told Reuters.
“This is the people telling the political elite that they got it wrong.”
One banner read: “17 million voted for Adolf Hitler. 17 million voted for Brexit. 17 million can be wrong” and another couple carried a placard which read: “We are doing this for our grandchildren.”
A Survation poll earlier this week found that 48 percent of respondents supported a referendum on the final deal, while 25 percent were opposed.
As yet there is no certainty about what the final deal could look like, amid infighting in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government as well as among some of its opponents about what they want from Britain’s new trading ties with the EU after it leaves in March next year.
Marking the anniversary, Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson, one of the main proponents of the “Leave” vote, wrote a column in tabloid newspaper the Sun defending Brexit.
Britain had voted for “the freedom to bust out of the corsets of EU regulation and rules” he said, and any softening of the final deal - such as continued membership of the single market and customs union - would be unwelcome.
Those who voted for Brexit had not changed their minds, he said. “They don’t want some bog roll Brexit - soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long” he said, using a British slang term for toilet paper.
Johnson was also quoted in the Telegraph newspaper by two sources as dismissing business leaders’ concerns about the impact of Brexit, using foul language in a meeting with EU diplomats. A spokesperson for the foreign office disputed whether he had used bad language and said he had been attacking business lobbyists.
Speaking on BBC radio, Jurgen Maier, head of German manufacturer Siemens in Britain, said slogans such as “full British Brexit” - used by Johnson - were “incredibly unhelpful”.
“What we need to do now is get closer to our European partners and work out what a realistic, pragmatic Brexit is, which works for both sides,” he said.
On Friday, Airbus (AIR.PA) said that if Britain were to leave the EU without a deal it would be forced to reconsider its long-term position and put UK jobs at risk.
Reporting by Henry Nicholls in London, additional reporting and writing by Elisabeth O'Leary in Edinburgh; Editing by Andrew Bolton