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Angry over Brexit delay, 'Leave' supporters march through London

Thousands of people opposed to Britain delaying its departure from the European Union marched through central London on Friday as lawmakers in parliament strongly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal for a third time.
In a special sitting of parliament, lawmakers voted 344-286 against the EU Withdrawal Agreement, agreed after two years of tortuous negotiations with the bloc. The vote left Britain's withdrawal from the European Union in turmoil.
The decision to reject a stripped-down version of May's divorce deal has left it totally unclear how, when or even whether Britain will leave the EU, and plunges the three-year Brexit crisis to a deeper level of uncertainty.
"I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House," May told parliament after the defeat. "The implications of the House’s decision are grave."
Within minutes of the vote, European Council President and summit chair Donald Tusk said EU leaders would meet on April 10 to discuss Britain's departure from the bloc.
A succession of European leaders said there was a very real chance Britain would now leave without a deal, a scenario that businesses fear would cause chaos for the world's fifth-biggest economy.
May had framed the vote as the last opportunity to ensure Britain actually left the EU, making a passionate plea to lawmakers to put aside party differences and strongly-held beliefs.
But
"The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on April 12," May said.
She cautioned that any further delay to Brexit would probably be a long one beyond the current deadline, and would mean Britain holding elections to the European Parliament.
The British pound, which has been buoyed in recent weeks by hopes that the likelihood of an abrupt 'no-deal' Brexit is receding, fell half a percent after May lost, to as low as$1.2977, but then recovered some of its losses.
"If the deadline is extended longer, we will re-engage with sterling because that will be the start of the slow death of Brexit," said Salman Ahmed, global investment strategist at Lombard Odier Investment Managers.
May had offered on Wednesday to resign if the deal passed, in a bid to win over eurosceptic rebels in her Conservative Party who support a more decisive break with the EU than the divorce her deal offers.
The vote leaves her Brexit strategy in tatters. With no majority in parliament for any Brexit option so far, it is unclear what May will now do. Options include asking the EU for a long delay, parliament forcing an election, or a "no-deal" exit.
However, May's spokesman said she would continue talks with opponents of the deal and some political correspondents said she could bring it back a fourth time, perhaps in a "run-off" against any alternative that parliament itself came up with.
Britain now has under two weeks to convince the 27 capitals of the EU that it has an alternative path out of the impasse, or see itself cast out of the bloc on April 12 with no deal on post-Brexit ties with its largest trading ally.
French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking as parliament voted, said the EU needed to accelerate no-deal planning and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that unless Britain came up with a plan, there would be a "hard" Brexit.
"The risk of a no-deal Brexit is very real," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters.
May's deal had twice been rejected by huge margins this year and, although she was able to win over many Conservative rebels, a hard core of euroskeptics, who see "no-deal" as the best option, and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her minority government, refused to back it.
On Monday, lawmakers who have tried to grab control of the process will attempt to agree on an alternative Brexit plan that could command majority cross-party support in parliament. The options that have so far gathered most support involve closer ties to the EU, and a second referendum.
A first attempt at non-binding "indicative votes" on Wednesday failed to produce a majority for any of the eight options on offer.
Many lawmakers believe the only way to solve the crisis will be a snap election - even though it would throw up a host of unknowns for the major parties.
"The last thing this country needs right now is a general election," transport minister Chris Grayling told Sky News."We've actually got to sort out the Brexit process, we can't throw everything up in the air."
The 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU revealed a United Kingdom divided over many more issues, and has provoked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British.
After the vote, large groups gathered in bright sunshine outside parliament waving Union Jack flags and chanting, "Out means out" as the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody was played on a loudspeaker with its famous lyric "Mamma Mia, let me go".
Friday's protest, a week after hundreds of thousands marched through calling for a second referendum, shows how divided Britain is over Europe three years after voting to leave the EU.
As the result of the vote in parliament filtered through to the crowds on Parliament Square, scattered cheers went up as some protesters viewed it as boosting the chance of a rapid departure from the bloc.
The mood of protesters ranged from satisfaction to despair.
"Excellent. We're now on track for a 'no deal,'" said saleswoman Louise Hemple, 52, standing in the shadow of Winston Churchill's statue outside parliament. "And that will mean we'll have complete control which is what we Brexiteers voted for."
Hemple said she would continue to protest until Britain had left the EU because she did not trust lawmakers to do it.
"They're in their bubble in there. It's all about their vote, not our vote," she said, referring to the 17.4 million people who voted Leave in Britain's 2016 referendum.
Nigel Farage - the politician widely thought to have done the most to spook Britain’s then government into agreeing to hold the referendum - addressed the crowd at the end of a 270-mile (435 km), two-week march from Sunderland, northeast England, to London.
"What should have been a celebration is in fact a day of betrayal," Farage told Reuters. "There will be a lot of anger. I certainly have never known a time in my life when people have said such rude things about the political class, about the government."
Earlier, about 1,000 Leave supporters had gathered at Bishop’s Park on the bank of the River Thames to march the four miles to parliament.
Among them was David Malindine, 63, a retired teacher.
"We need to remind the country that the majority of people voted 'Leave,'" said Malindine. "This was the day we were supposed to leave, and Brexit has been betrayed."
Many people said their central grievance was a political elite that doesn't represent them.
One placard said: "Politicians worth their weight in cow dung." Another said: "Parliament? A hive of scum and villainy."
Labour Party politician Lisa Nandy - who opposed May's deal said that she and her staff were called traitors by protesters as she tried to enter parliament to vote.
Far-right Leave activists including Tommy Robinson spoke at a separate meeting nearby.
Robinson led the crowd in singing Rule Britannia. Propped on the stage beside him was a coffin with May's face on it and the word "democracy".
Some protesters dragged dummies wearing masks of May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn through the streets, leaving them outside the gates to May's Downing Street residence.
Police said they were prepared for potential trouble, although the atmosphere was festive for most of the day with people drinking beer and eating sandwiches.
Later in the evening there was a small stand-off between Robinson supporters and police, as around 100 supporters protested outside May's office shouting "We want Brexit! We want Brexit!".
London's police force said it had arrested five protesters as of 9 p.m.
Many of the day's marchers predicted the political elite will be punished if it fails to fully sever ties with Brussels.
Andy Allan, 58, who was carrying a red and white St George's flag, predicted that there could be unrest modelled on the"yellow vest" protests that have rocked Paris for the last few months if Britain fails to leave the EU.
"It is absolutely disgusting what is happening," he said."Be warned - this is just the beginning of a mass uprising if we get betrayed by the politicians."


© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.
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