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UK's embattled prime minister faces huge anti-Brexit march

Updated: 2019-03-23 21:05
An EU supporter, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, participates in the 'People's Vote' march in central London, Britain March 23, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May is easing away from plans to hold a third vote on her troubled Brexit withdrawal plan as protesters gathered in central London on Saturday to demand a second referendum.

The "People's Vote March" is expected to be one of the largest protest gatherings in recent years as efforts to halt the Brexit process pick up steam.

It comes one day after May told lawmakers she may not seek passage of her troubled Brexit withdrawal plan in Parliament next week. The embattled leader wrote to lawmakers Friday night saying she would only bring the European Union withdrawal plan back to Parliament if there seems to be enough backing for it to pass.

"If it appears that there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before 12 April, but that will involve holding European Parliament elections," she said.

May's changing stance reflects the plan's dismal chances in the House of Commons after two prior defeats.

She also says she would need the approval of House Speaker John Bercow to bring the plan back for a third time despite his objections. Bercow has said a third vote would violate parliamentary rules unless the plan is altered.

May said in her letter to lawmakers that if the deal is approved, Britain will leave the EU on May 22, a date agreed with EU officials.

Lawmakers have twice rejected the deal and haven't shown any clear swing toward endorsing it in recent days. Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on April 12 if no deal is approved.

May's pro-Brexit forces are also girding for the possible political impact of the march in central London in support of holding a second referendum that would give British voters the option of remaining in the EU despite the 2016 vote in favor of leaving.

The marchers will include 63-year-old Edmund Sides, who spent the last three weeks walking from Wales to London in order to take part.

Sides, a geologist, said he wanted to be able to speak to people along the way, encouraging families that have been split between Leave and Remain to mend fences and talk.

"The whole country isn't doing enough of that," he said.

Sides is worried about the vicious tone that arguments have started to take and worries about national cohesion. Walking gave him a chance to talk to people along the way, and see what others were thinking.

"People fear the atmosphere is very dangerous in this country," he said.

More than 4 million people endorsed an electronic petition this week in favor of revoking Article 50, the act that formally triggered the Brexit process.

The march will conclude outside Parliament, which remains divided over Brexit. No consensus on a way forward has emerged despite weeks of extensive debate.

May told lawmakers in her letter that Britain still has options including an extension that would require taking part in European Parliament elections in May.

She also said Britain could revoke Article 50 but characterized that as a betrayal of the Brexit vote in favor of severing EU ties.

She also said Britain could leave without a deal.

In a conciliatory tone, the prime minister offered to meet with lawmakers to discuss Brexit policy.

She had offended many legislators with a speech Thursday night that seemed to blame Parliament for the stalled Brexit process.

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