A demonstrator holds up a placard as she joins a protest against the move to suspend parliament outside Downing Street in London on Saturday. AFP
Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct.31 with or without a deal on future relations with the bloc. The move to shut parliament for around a month in the period before that will hinder efforts by his opponents to stop him.
In the biggest demonstration, thousands of whistle-blowing, drum-banging people gathered raucously outside the gates of Downing Street in London chanting “Boris Johnson shame on you!”
“I’m absolutely disgusted by what’s happening here,” said attendee Maya Dunn, 66, a Dutch citizen living in Britain, who accused Johnson of “riding roughshod over everybody.” “You just can’t trust him,” she said. A sign read: “#StopTheCoup. Defend our Democracy. Save our future.”
The government says it is usual for parliament to be suspended before a new prime minister outlines his policy programme in a Queen’s speech, now scheduled for Oct.14. His supporters also say parliament usually breaks in late September, when the main political parties hold their annual conferences.
But his critics say the suspension, known as a prorogation, is unusually long and describe the move as a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the time that lawmakers will have to debate before Britain leaves the EU at the end of October.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has threatened to hold a no-confidence vote in the government — which has a parliamentary majority of just one — if MPs fail to pass a law to prevent a no-deal Brexit. He said on Saturday that next week is lawmakers’ “last chance” to act.
“We will do absolutely everything we can to prevent a no-deal Brexit,” Corbyn vowed during a three-day visit to Scotland.
In London, participants heard speeches from opposition politicians on a stage erected on Whitehall before marching through Westminster. Some held hand-written signs reading “defend democracy: resist the parliament shutdown” and “wake up UK! Or welcome to Germany 1933.”
Organisers using the slogan #StopTheCoup claimed as many as 100,000 people had turned out in London.
Crowds gathered in cities all over Britain, from Exeter in the southwest and Oxford in central England, to Manchester, York and Newcastle in the country’s north.
They also rallied in Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland and in the Northern Irish capital Belfast.
"Nobody voted for a dictatorship,” said Bridie Walton, 55, in Exeter, who added Brexit had prompted her to demonstrate for the first time in her life. “These are the actions of a man who is afraid his arguments will not stand scrutiny.”
About 100 people protested outside the city hall in Belfast, the capital of the Northern Ireland, which has become a particular focus in the Brexit negotiations as it has the United Kingdom’s only land border with the European Union.
The “backstop” insurance policy, part of the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the EU and Britain’s former prime minister and which aims to keep the border with Ireland open, has become the main sticking point in negotiations.
Johnson wants the backstop removed, saying it could leave Northern Ireland operating under different regulatory rules than the rest of the United Kingdom. The EU and Ireland say Britain has yet to come up with acceptable alternatives. A court case being heard in Belfast next week aims to block Johnson’s suspension of parliament on the grounds that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the British-run province of Northern Ireland.
Protesters said the government had failed to take into account the importance of the border issue. “The thing that scares me most is they have no appreciation of what is important for Northern Ireland. We are not on their radar,” said Graham Glendinning, 49, a software worker. “The border means nothing to them and they don’t give two hoots about it.”
Britain's Queen Elizabeth has approved Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to suspend parliament, a statement from the official body of advisers to the Queen, known as the Privy Council, said on Wednesday.
Brexit became official Friday at 11 p.m. in London and midnight in Brussels, where the EU is headquartered.
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