March 22, 2019

An online petition to stop Brexit crashes government website due to sheer number of supporters.


You know that feeling before an exam, of sheer panic and anxiety in the pit of your stomach? The dread of realising your coursework is due in and it’s nowhere near finished and even if you stay up all night and miraculously complete it, it’s going to be shit?

That’s how at least 16 million people in the UK are feeling right now as we plunge head first, kicking and screaming, into the Brexit abyss.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has had nearly three years to complete her coursework—which she set her own deadline for. But here we are, just over a week away from Doomsday on 29th March, with no agreement in place with the European Union, in danger of leaving with no deal.

So what is a ‘no-deal Brexit’, and why is it so bad anyway? Essentially, the UK will have left the EU with no agreements in place about what our relationship will be like in future. We’ll get no 21-month transition period to get trade agreements in place and so businesses and public bodies will have to respond to changes immediately. As no one has ever left the EU before, the immediate and long-term impacts are unknown, but experts fear there could be chaos at borders, disastrous implications for businesses, increase in food prices, a shortage of essential goods (including vital medication), and added pressure on our National Health Service. Brexiteers argue a no-deal Brexit would save Britain the £39 billion ($51 billion) that the prime minister has agreed to pay the EU, that we’ll be able to control our own borders and we can get rid of unnecessary EU regulations that hinder British businesses.

There have been so many lies bandied around by both the leave and remain campaigns, the Tories and Labour, that it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. But I know which side I am on. The publishing world has largely been against Brexit, fearing the impact it will have on business. MD of the Booksellers Association, Meryl Hall, told Katie Mansfield at The Bookseller:

“Bookselling is feeling a renewed sense of confidence at the moment and the last thing our fragile retail ecosystem needs is the reduced consumer confidence inevitably flowing from uncertainty. The bookselling community is a valuable contributor to the UK economy and wants to continue to contribute to our cultural landscape, unimpeded by Brexit chaos and external stresses.”

May has already been voted down in two meaningful votes, meaning the majority of MPs do not back the current Brexit agreement she has negotiated with the EU. There’s talk of a third vote, but The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has clearly stated that this will not be considered unless there has been substantial change to the Brexit deal. The EU says they will not entertain any further changes to the deal.

MPs have also voted against a no-deal scenario. They don’t want that either. Nor will they consider a second referendum—they’ve voted against that, and we can’t get rid of May because a vote of no-confidence in her leadership was ultimately thwarted in January.

The corner we have backed ourselves into is a dark, gloomy place that smells a bit like vomit. In what seems like absolute desperation, May has asked to extend the deadline from 29thMarch to 30thJune. How the hell we expect bickering, braying MPs to make a complete U-turn within a few months and back anything the Prime Minister puts before them is beyond me. And, of course, the EU has to agree to the extension, which frankly, why should they? Do we, the UK, honestly think we are SO important that 27 heads of state of European countries have to do whatever we want? That the ongoing social and political situations in these countries aren’t important and we, the UK, is the only country that matters? I almost want them to tell us to bugger off, because isn’t that what we deserve at this point? We’ve become a global joke. Correspondents at The Guardian, including Jon Henley, spoke to various EU politicians and officials on the UK’s now reputation, succinctly summarising:

Some have responded with humour. Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said recently that if she had one, she would call her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.”

Others have found it harder to laugh. To the shock of many, Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), wholly unrealistic, and startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years.

Responding to the extension request, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said a short extension might be possible but only if MPs support Theresa May’s current deal. Which they’ve already said they won’t. So what the hell happens now?

“We had the vote, you lost,” Brexiteers like to say. “Get over it. That’s democracy.” So why does it kind of feeling a bit more like fascism right now then? On Thursday night, May addressed the nation from Downing Street, essentially blaming MPs for everything:

“So far, Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice. Motion after motion and amendment after amendment has been tabled without Parliament ever deciding what it wants. All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want.

I passionately hope MPs will find a way to back the deal I’ve negotiated with the EU, a deal that delivers on the result of the referendum and is the very best deal negotiable.”

Yeah, none of it’s her fault you see. She’s not at all stubborn, misleading or manipulative. She’s definitely not clinging onto power at any cost. And, my personal favourite bit:

“And of this I am absolutely sure: You, the public, have had enough.

You’re tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime.

You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”

Yeah … No. Nope, you are not on my side at all, and how dare you pretend you are. It goes hand in hand with one of her other favourites: “It is the will of the people.” It is the will of some people. You are on the side of a portion of the population. But not mine.

Feeling so utterly powerless, surging towards likely disaster is hard to accept. This is why an online petition appeared on Wednesday evening, pleading for Article 50, the clause that has to be activated to leave the EU, to be revoked, as follows:

The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is “the will of the people.” We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU. A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now.

As I’m writing this, the number of signatures collected is over 850,000 and has made headlines. Every five seconds, several hundred people sign it and watching the online counter surge upwards is pretty hypnotic. In fact, traffic is so high the website periodically crashes. At this rate it could reach over 2 million by the time this humble blog post is live.

Over 4 million people signed a petition back in 2016 for a second referendum, and although discussed in parliament, the government dismissed the idea. So in all likelihood, this new petition is not going to change the mind of the government. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sign it—activism has to start somewhere. This Saturday also sees a ‘Put It To The People March’ happening in central London, demanding for a people’s vote.

Let’s remember Article 50 CAN be revoked. The referendum was only ever advisory. But it would take strong and stable leadership to admit defeat and reverse a decisionless decision.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.