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article imageUnited in opposition: Vote truce among Brexit rabble-rousers

By Antoine POLLEZ (AFP)     Jan 15, 2019 in World

Noisy europhiles and Brexiteers battled beneath leaden skies on Tuesday to make their voices heard outside Britain's parliament, but were united in opposition to the government's deal to be voted on later.

Tony Brack was in London for business, but did not want to miss the show, using his mobile phone to film the hundred or so demonstrators waving signs and placards.

"I've never seen anything like it," he told AFP.

"It is a circus. What does the rest of the world think about it?"

Demonstrators lined the walkways opposite the Palace of Westminster -- the formal name for the Houses of Parliament and grounds -- under the gaze of television cameras located in temporary studios on College Green opposite.

Each side staked out their camp, with no mingling allowed.

"I would have talked to them, but because they are abusive, no," said 65-year-old Sally Smith, pointing to the pro-EU faction.

Despite the entrenched opposition  the atmosphere was non-hostile
Despite the entrenched opposition, the atmosphere was non-hostile
Tolga AKMEN, AFP

The no-deal Brexit supporter, originally from Shropshire near Wales, had taken the day off work to come and make her point -- by frantically ringing a bell.

In the opposite camp, Louise Hummerstone, a 66-year-old potter and craftswoman wearing an EU beret, admitted that she had "lost friends" who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum.

"I can understand naive voters, I completely understand people who believed the lies, but I can not tolerate those who voted for racist reasons," she said.

- 'Rather sad' -

Despite the entrenched opposition, the atmosphere was non-hostile as large numbers of police kept a close eye on proceedings.

It also helped that both groups, for the time being, wanted the same thing: for MPs to reject the divorce agreement negotiated between Theresa May's government and European leaders.

Demonstrators lined the walkways opposite parliament
Demonstrators lined the walkways opposite parliament
Tolga AKMEN, AFP

"I am talking to MPs who are on the fence, not sure which way to go -- (to) give them support to reject the deal," explained Pete Bell, between shouts of "Stop Brexit" through his megaphone.

The doctor with Britain's public health service believes that leaving the EU "will leave us economically in a bit of a disaster" and is campaigning for a second referendum.

Mark Stevens also wants May's deal to be defeated, but for very different reasons.

The ardent Brexit supporter hopes a damaging loss will lead to May -- who backed Remain in 2016 -- losing power.

"At the moment we have very little enthusiasm and leadership shown for leaving," he said.

"Someone who would have a more positive approach would help the thing work a lot better," he added.

As he spoke, activists worked behind him to install a cardboard replica of the Titanic, with Theresa May at the helm.

With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29  Britain is still bitter...
With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over what should happen next
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP

"This is a symbol, people are showing what could happen," observed Joseph Iliasz, a Polish tourist visiting London who stopped to view the spectacle.

"At first, it looks funny, but if you think more, it is not funny, it is rather sad," he said.

Iliasz admitted he is worried that his daughter will not be able to study in the British capital after Brexit.

"We want to keep England in Europe," he added.

Proponents of a second referendum will erect big screens in Parliament Square mid-afternoon to air the crunch vote inside the House of Commons, which is expected around 2000 GMT.

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