Revoke Article 50 petition: Conspiracy theories abound after 'cancel Brexit' campaign website crashes

Anthony Cuthbertson
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Revoke Article 50 petition: Conspiracy theories abound after 'cancel Brexit' campaign website crashes

Revoke Article 50 petition: Conspiracy theories abound after 'cancel Brexit' campaign website crashes

An online petition to halt the Brexit process by revoking Article 50 has crashed, prompting conspiracy theories from both sides of the divide.

The petition had received more than 600,000 signatures and was trending across social media when it first went down on Thursday morning,

Visitors to the website were greeted with an error message that stated: "Petitions is down for maintenance. We know about it and we're working on it. Please try again later."

The online petition originally stated: "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."

In the hours before it crashed, the petition was attracting tens of thousands of new signatures every hour, suggesting the cause of the website going down was simply an overload of traffic.

This hasn't stopped speculation that there may be another reason for the outage, with some Twitter users suggesting that there may be darker forces at work.

"Is anybody getting error messages when trying to complete the revoke petition?" asked Remain campaigner UK4Europe on Twitter. "Could be volume – or something more suspicious."

One theory is that pro-Brexit campaigners could have carried out a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, whereby a website is flooded with fake web traffic in order to overload it.

However, if a significant number of people are legitimately trying to access the website at the same time – with those that cannot reach it refreshing the page – then the effect would be exactly the same.

Other conspiracy theories surrounding the petition claim that Remain campaigners have been adding fake signatures in an attempt to boost numbers.

"The petition saw a suspicious jump in signatures last night, with blatantly fake signatures arising everywhere from Russia, to Afghanistan, to North Korea," an article on right-wing blog Guido Fawkes stated.

The petition comes as Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Brussels in an attempt to negotiate a delay to Brexit.

The UK's current default position is that it crashes out of Europe without a deal on 29 March.

Calls to revoke Article 50 – the process by which an EU member state can voluntarily leave the union – have grown in recent weeks as a result of the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has not ruled out the possibility of revoking Article 50 but said it was "highly unlikely".

Regardless of whether the petition is able to attract more signatures, it had already reached its goal of prompting the government to take notice.

Parliament must consider any petition that receives more than 100,000 signatures for a debate.