Tension and confrontation in Westminster as Brexit debate enters crucial stage

Westminster streets filled with passionate Remainers and Leavers as parliament prepares for key Brexit vote

The fate of Brexit hung in the balance on Tuesday as parliament prepared for an explosive showdown with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that could end in a snap election. AFP
The fate of Brexit hung in the balance on Tuesday as parliament prepared for an explosive showdown with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that could end in a snap election. AFP

Demonstrators from both sides of the Brexit debate made their presence felt in Westminster today as the UK parliament gears up for a pivotal vote to decide the nature of the country’s exit from the European Union.

The vote could see several Conservative MPs rebel against government plans to take the UK out of the EU without a deal if necessary, in an outcome that could trigger a snap election as early as October 14.

A focal point for abuse is the country’s new prime minister, who is behind that pledge to get out “no ifs, no buts” on October 31 and his Rasputin-like chief of staff Dominic Cummings, an ideological Brexiteer who ran the successful Vote Leave campaign.

For Viv Pointon, 67, the goal of the protest was simple: “We are here to give our support to the MPs resisting Boris Johnson and the people behind him like Dominic Cummings.”

Ms Pointon said they believed the protests and debates could continue for years to come.

“I’ve been campaigning like this for three and a half years now,” she added.

That determination has left many believing they are in a winner takes all battle that will run for years, even if the government is successful in its goal to leave.

Steven Morgan, 65 from Dorking, said: “The country is completely and totally divided. How can anyone bring it back together?”

Verbal confrontation flowed thick and fast, inevitable given the proximity of the opposing groups, with arguments and debates breaking out along the barricades and walkways laid out around Westminster.

“People feel as if they’ve had the underpinnings of their lives pulled from underneath them by deceit,” said Helen Kendall, 65, who had travelled from Warwick to attend the demonstrations.

She added that many of her fellow demonstrators had never protested before, but were motivated to attend as the Brexit saga entered an important phase.

“We know this is the crunch point,” said Suzie Courtault, a spokesperson for Women for Europe, one of a host of pro-European groups represented outside the houses of parliament.

“Those MPs who have been talking about rebellion have to put their money where their mouths are,” she added.

The cross-party bid to prevent Britain from crashing out of the EU without a deal in October could see over 20 Conservative MPs vote against their own party in what is being treated as a confidence vote by Downing Street.

Some demonstrators voiced concerns that their own MPs could break ranks with the government.

Penelope Becker, 53, from Putney in London, worried that her MP Justine Greening would “vote against her own government”.

Hours earlier, Justine Greening, the former international development secretary and MP for Putney, Roehampton & Southfields, announced she would be quitting the Conservative party at the next election.

Ms Becker said she had been campaigning with Leave Means Leave since the referendum and was fed up with “shouting down the road at MPs.”

Commenting on the atmosphere of confrontation, she said she was “worried there could be serious political unrest”.

Not all those in the area were protesting over Brexit. The House of Common’s was about to hear Dominic Raab take Foreign Office questions and the topic of India’s constitutional change over Kashmir was one of the main issues.

A large protest calling for the withdrawal of Indian troops from Kashmir, taking place in parliament square, meant Brexit demonstrators lined up around College Green and Parliament square, creating an atmosphere of tension as groups jostled stood shoulder to shoulder.

The first of a series of the week’s Brexit protests was on Monday night and saw hundreds of demonstrators block Whitehall as prime minister Boris Johnson delivered a speech outside 10 Downing Street.

The chants of the protesters could be heard clearly in the background of the prime minister’s speech, leaving the prime minster rattled.

“Parliament is no longer able to represent the people,” said Anna Kennedy.

The 46-year-old Londoner joined demonstrators marching on Downing Street yesterday to protest the government’s plans to prorogue parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit.

Josh Lovell, a 27-year-old PHD student from Stevenage, said “the strength of feeling against the government is unprecedented.”

Across the UK, 56 further protests are planned for the coming weeks.

Updated: September 3, 2019 08:47 PM

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