A petition calling for Brexit to be cancelled and for the government to revoke Article 50 has been signed by millions of people.
The number signing the online petition soared throughout Thursday as Theresa May spent the day in Brussels trying to secure a Brexit delay until June 30.
At several points, the government website crashed as it struggled to cope with more than 2,000 signatures every minute. The Petitions Committee confirmed the rate of signing was the highest it had ever had to deal with and they were struggling to keep the site stable.
By 11pm on Thursday evening, more than two million people had signed the petition, which calls for support to remain in the EU.
Momentum behind the petition grew as the Prime Minister made her way to Brussels on Thursday morning following a speech outside Downing Street on Wednesday night in which she admitted people were “fed up” with the negotiations.
And late on Thursday night, European Council president Donald Tusk announced that the EU27 had agreed to an extension to Brexit to May 22 if MPs approve Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement next week. If it is voted down, the UK will be given until April 12 to declare its next steps, which could include a no deal exit.
Mrs May claimed the plan outlined the “importance of the House of Commons passing the Brexit deal next week so we can put an end to the uncertainty”.
When asked directly about the petition, she said: “I do not believe we should be revoking Article 50.”
Theresa May will now try and take her Withdrawal Agreement back to Parliament to get it passed by MPs at the third attempt.
On Thursday, she was facing growing anger from MPs, who had taken issue with the PM’s speech on Wednesday night in which she appeared to apportion blame on them for refusing to pass her deal.
Conservative MP Nicky Morgan, who backed Remain and who supports compromise over a Brexit deal, said the speech was “terribly misjudged” and that she no longer held out hope the deal would win support.
Conservative MP Ben Bradley, a Brexiteer who has previously backed Mrs May’s deal, also labelled her speech “not helpful” and suggested he might now vote against the deal himself.
But Mrs May sought to strike a conciliatory tone on Thursday night, admitting that MPs were – like her – frustrated with the process.
And to complicate issues even further, Jeremy Corbyn today twice declined to rule out the option of halting Brexit by revoking Article 50.
Two million signatures… and counting
Article 50 is the mechanism by which Britain exits the EU. In December, the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK can unilaterally revoke it, which means the UK can stay in the EU without the consent of the 27 other EU countries.
Celebrities and MPs also tweeted their support for the petition. Famous figures including actors Jennifer Saunders, TV presenter and author Caitlin Moran, physicist Brian Cox and former Labour press chief Alastair Campbell all urged their followers on social media to sign the petition.
Another was actor Hugh Grant.
Alongside the link, Grant wrote on Twitter: ‘I’ve signed. And it looks like every sane person in the country is signing too. National emergency.’
I’ve signed. And it looks like every sane person in the country is signing too. National emergency. Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. – Petitions https://t.co/tPgkaz1soi
— Hugh Grant (@HackedOffHugh) March 20, 2019
It comes ahead of a planned march in London at the weekend by Remainers, calling for Britain to stay in the European Union.
The petition, which was set live on February 21, reads: ‘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.’
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said she had been made aware of technical problems with the site, but she dismissed the petition as not being on the same scale as the pro-Brexit vote in the 2016 referendum.
“Should it reach 17.4 million respondents then I am sure there will be a very clear case for taking action,” she told MPs.