LONDON, (AFP): Protesters wielding pro-democracy placards and EU flags rallied on Saturday in dozens of British cities against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial move to suspend parliament weeks before Brexit.
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.
The demonstrations come ahead of an intense political week in which Johnson’s opponents will go to court to block his move to suspend parliament from mid-September and legislate against leaving the European Union without an agreement.
Johnson, who only came to power in July following a Conservative Party leadership election, has promised Britain will depart the bloc on October 31 under any circumstances.
His parliament suspension was widely seen as a way of limiting the time Johnson’s opponents have to organise against him.
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.”
– ‘Last chance’ –
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 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.
Johnson has said he is ready to strike a deal as long as provisions for Britain to stay in the customs union even after Brexit are axed from an existing deal struck by his predecessor Theresa May.
But EU leaders have said they are still awaiting concrete proposals from London.
Johnson’s Brexit adviser David Frost is expected back in Brussels for talks next week.
The government meanwhile is ramping up preparations in case of no-deal.
– ‘Lasting damage’ –
Johnson on Friday cautioned MPs against trying to hamper his plans, saying a decision to delay Brexit again would do “lasting damage” to public trust in politics.
He said the opposition’s efforts could in fact help lead to a no-deal Brexit as EU counterparts would be less likely to offer a compromise if they believed Brexit could be stopped.
Queen Elizabeth II gave her approval to Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for mid-September until October 14 on Wednesday, sparking widespread outrage, legal challenges and promises of resistance from parliamentarians.
Finance Minister Sajid Javid on Saturday defended the move, despite saying during the recent Tory leadership contest when he stood against Johnson that “you don’t deliver democracy by trashing democracy”.
“It doesn’t usually sit for some time in September and early October,” he told BBC radio.
An online petition calling for the government to reverse its suspension has garnered nearly 1.7 million signatures.
In the courts, a Scottish judge is expected to hear a legal challenge against the suspension on Tuesday — the same day MPs return from their summer break for their shortened parliamentary session.
There will be a separate court hearing Thursday for another challenge that is being supported by John Major, a former Conservative prime minister and staunch opponent of Brexit.
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