Thousands of demonstrators marched in the streets here Saturday to vent their frustration over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, as the divided country struggles to define a new path forward.
The outcome of the referendum has created chaos inside the top echelons of British politics, fractured relations with the 27 other nations in the EU and weakened the country’s economy. Although the measure passed last month with a solid majority across most of England, voters in London overwhelmingly supported remaining within the decades-old alliance.
At the rally Saturday, several protesters said they wanted to ensure their voices are heard as the debate shifts to the terms of Britain’s departure. The event was billed as a march for Europe, with more than 27,000 people signed up online to attend, although it was unclear how many actually attended. Under mostly sunny skies and a few showers, protesters draped themselves in European flags and carried signs reading “We love EU” as they descended on Parliament Square.
“We have to accept it,” said Brian Walters, 49, of the vote to leave. “But we don’t have to like it. We can’t just go away.”
A petition to hold a second referendum on a British exit — popularly known as Brexit — has garnered more than 4 million signatures, although such a move is generally considered a political long shot. At Saturday’s rally, some demonstrators instead suggested holding a public vote over any future agreement with the EU.
“The British public needs a clear view of what the plan is,” said Dan Oakey, 46.
“And not commit national suicide,” added his 11-year-old son, Eduardo.
Britain has yet to formally declare its intention to break with the EU, as outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, who supported remaining, said that duty should be left to his successor. The race to replace him has turned into a Shakespearean-style drama that is splintering the governing Conservative Party, while the opposition Labour Party is grappling with a leadership crisis of its own — leaving the country without clear direction at a critical juncture in its history.
Speaking Saturday in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II did not directly address the turmoil but emphasized the importance of staying “calm and collected.”
“One hallmark of leadership in such a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for quiet thinking and contemplation, which can enable deeper, cooler consideration of how challenges and opportunities can be best addressed,” she said.