A petition calling for Britain to remain in the European Union has received an unprecedented 3 million signatures.
Launched this week, it calls for Article 50 – the legal process which allows Britain to leave the European Union – to be revoked, meaning the UK would remain a member of the bloc.
More than 300,000 people signed the fast-growing petition in just three hours on Friday morning.
“The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people’,” the petition stated. “We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU.”
The move could legally work, according to experts. Article 50 can be unilaterally revoked at any time until the UK leaves the EU, academic Oliver Patel wrote in an article for HuffPost UK.
The appeal, which is hosted on the official parliament website, has already passed the point at which an automatic debate among MPs is triggered.
Despite claims from Nigel Farage that many of those signing the petition “are coming from Russia”, an analysis of the petition’s data by Statista for HuffPost UK found that, after United Kingdom, the next country with the most signatories was France.
But despite the rush of signatories, the government has attempted to pour cold water on the effort. Prime Minister Theresa May said that the petition paled in comparison to the 2016 referendum which she described as “the biggest democratic exercise in our history”.
She added: “I think that it is important if we want to show that we can be trusted as politicians to respect a decision that we gave to the people. We didn’t say ‘tell us what you think and we’ll think about it’, we said ’here’s the vote, what is your decision and we’ll deliver on it’.”
When the petition reached 2 million signatures, a No10 spokesperson added: “The prime minister has long been clear that failing to deliver on the referendum result would be a failure of our democracy and something she couldn’t countenance.”
While Commons Leader and Brexit supporter Andrea Leadsom said of the appeal: “Should it reach more than 17.4 million respondents then I’m sure there would be a very clear case for taking action.”
In the 2016 poll, 51.9%, or 17,410,742, voted to leave the EU, while 48.1%, or 16,141,241, voted to remain.
The petition was created by Margaret Anne Georgiadou, a former college lecturer.
Polls which reach 100,000 signatures are almost always debated, but this is unlikely to occur before the UK’s exit, previously timed for 11pm on 29 March, but which could now be 12 April at the earliest.
The 3 million milestone was reached after May bid to secure a delay to Brexit at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday night.
The bloc agreed to allow Britain to delay its exit to 22 May if MPs vote through May’s withdrawal vote before Friday.
Otherwise, Britain’s ultimate exit day will be 12 April, the leaders said. May had requested a delay until 30 June. European Council President Donald Tusk said that until 12 April, “all options will remain open and the cliff-edge date will be delayed.”