LONDON — Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through London on Saturday afternoon in a last-ditch, long-shot effort to reverse Britain’s looming split from the European Union, calling on lawmakers to heed the enormous anger among pro-Europeans and break the political stalemate by holding a second referendum.
The protesters, some of whom traveled for hours on buses and trains, set off from Hyde Park holding placards that nodded at their European roots — “50 percent French, 50 percent British, 100 percent European,” one boy’s sign read — and employed a bit of British understatement — “Brexit really not going well, is it?” read another.
The crowd — organizers estimated a million people turned out, though there was no way to independently confirm it — clogged vast stretches of central London, with thousands of people still waiting to begin marching by the time those at the front of the rally were filling Parliament Square.
“This is the first time I’ve felt that I needed to come and take part,” said Jenny Chandler, 54, a food writer from Bristol, arriving under the Victorian arches of London’s Paddington Station on Saturday morning.
“I’m feeling disempowered and frustrated, and even though it feels slightly futile, I wanted to be here today,” Ms. Chandler said. “It’s our last glimmer of hope to stay in the E.U.”
But hanging over the march was the reality that, as frustrated as many Britons have become over the gridlock in Parliament, there remains little appetite among lawmakers for another public vote. And as much as anti-Brexit organizers have tried to cast their movement as inclusive of the people who voted to leave the Europe Union in a referendum 2016, the idea of a second referendum is still divisive.
Still, marchers on Saturday said they were reaching for a way out of the bleak political landscape in Parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal has repeatedly been rejected, including by her putative allies, and the prospect of a calamitous no-deal Brexit is looming.
As Yema Stowell, 25, was leaving Paddington Station to join a stream of people making their way toward Hyde Park, she said the fight against Brexit transcended traditional party politics.
“When the campaign started, I thought this is something I believe in — political parties not so much,” said Ms. Stowell, who works for an academic publisher in Oxford, England, and campaigned to remain in 2016.
But she said people were fast losing hope, citing as an example an aunt who has a dress matching the European Union flag but who decided not to march on Saturday. Whether or not lawmakers decide to hold a second referendum, Ms. Stowell said, campaigners needed to speak up for Britain’s relationship with Europe, a subject that will surely consume the political debate for years.
“This is about telling Theresa May that the people aren’t on her side,” she said, referring to comments this past week by Mrs. May in which she said lawmakers were undermining the public with their attempts to stall her exit plan.
As the marchers advanced, some blew whistles and erupted in cheers and jeers. A percussion band pounded out a frenetic rhythm, and someone could be heard playing the European Union’s anthem on a bagpipe.
Speakers included London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. Absent from the march on Saturday was Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, who has long dithered over a second referendum. His support would be crucial to any move in Parliament for another public vote.
Instead, the Labour Party’s Twitter account, after asking about supporters’ “weekend plans,” suggested they participate in local election events, a post that critics said was symptomatic of Labour’s attempts to sidestep the biggest political crisis in a generation.
But the march on Saturday was also a reminder that the Labour leadership does not speak with a single voice when it comes to Brexit. The deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson, used the occasion to announce that he would vote for a Brexit deal that gave the public a chance to choose between the agreement and staying in the bloc.
The idea that the British could still be debating in late March a reversal of the coming split once seemed far-fetched. The country had been scheduled to leave on March 29. But European leaders have agreed to delay Brexit. And frustration is growing in Britain, with a petition calling to cancel Brexit racking up more than 4.4 million on Parliament’s website on Saturday — the same day as the march.
Many of the marchers were young people who described the fight for another public vote on Brexit as the defining political event of their lives.
[Read: Young People Are Leading the Campaign for a Second Brexit Vote]
“Hello, and welcome aboard the People’s Vote express from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington,” Sally Patterson, 23, an officer at the University of Bristol Students’ Union, said into a microphone aboard a train on Saturday, before handing it back to the conductor.
Some of the estimated three million European Union citizens living in the country, many of whom say they resent not having been given a chance to vote on the issue, took part, as well.
Erika Pavely, 37, who came from Slovakia to study more than a decade ago and later married an English man, said of the attacks on immigrants during the Brexit process, “I feel personally insulted sometimes.”
She added, “There has been a lot of finger pointing at people who are here to contribute to society, who have never been on benefits.”
The demonstration was a stark contrast to an ongoing march “against Brexit betrayal.”
A few dozen Brexit supporters — backed by Nigel Farage, the former leader of the euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party — set out on March 16 in Sunderland, in northeast England, a community that voted in favor of Brexit, and were heading for a rally in London on March 29 where organizers hope many more Brexiteers will join them.
But the march on Saturday also featured some Conservatives who said they disagreed with their party’s line on Brexit.
Daniel Poser, 52, a residential landlord in London who belongs to Conservatives Against Brexit, was walking by government buildings stickered with anti-Brexit slogans on Saturday.
“You’re now seeing the proof that Brexit is a puzzle with no way out,” Mr. Poser said. “We as a nation are trapped by the lies told during the referendum.”
He said he saw another referendum as a practical way out of the crisis. “The poison entered the system through the referendum — can we draw it out through a referendum and never talk about it again?” he said.
Many polls show that Britons have now gone from mostly thinking that Britain was right to leave Europe after the referendum to mostly thinking the opposite. Support for a public vote has also grown, according to a mid-March poll by YouGov for the People’s Vote campaign, though pollsters’ findings have varied widely depending how the question is asked.
Another protester, Olivia Leydenfrost, 58, a British-American communications professional who grew up in Manhattan but has lived in Britain for 17 years, arrived in London on Saturday from Bath. She said the right-wing movements in Britain and the United States had motivated her to march.
“Because I’m a U.S.-U.K. citizen, I have Trump back there and Brexit here, and these two things have made me become an activist,” Ms. Leydenfrost said.
She said Mrs. May’s efforts to hold her fractured Conservative party together, despite the clock ticking down to a no-deal Brexit, were difficult to watch. “What is devastating is the Tories willing to sacrifice the country for the party,” she said.
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