Farage leads 435km march against Brexit 'betrayal'

Former UK Independence Party leader and Brexit spearhead Nigel Farage (second from left) during the first leg of the March To Leave in Sunderland onSaturday.It will conclude in London on March 29.
Former UK Independence Party leader and Brexit spearhead Nigel Farage (second from left) during the first leg of the March To Leave in Sunderland onSaturday.It will conclude in London on March 29.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SUNDERLAND • Arch-Eurosceptic Nigel Farage led a hundred anxious Brexit backers on Saturday through the mud of England's industrial north-east towards London, demanding certainty that Britain leaves the European Union this month.

The 435km march from Sunderland to the capital's Parliament will conclude on March 29 - the date Britain was scheduled to pull out of the EU after nearly half a century.

But lawmakers' refusal to back the divorce deal that Prime Minister Theresa May struck with Brussels has put Britain's divorce from the EU in some doubt.

Mrs May will try this week to push her pact through the divided House of Commons for a third time.

If it is approved, the Prime Minister will ask the remaining 27 EU leaders to sign off on a Brexit deadline extension through June to allow the British Parliament to pass the necessary legislation.

If there is another rejection of the deal, Mrs May will be forced to seek a longer delay that some EU leaders have said could last through the end of next year.

"Sunderland is very symbolic. It was the Sunderland result on the night of the (2016 Brexit) referendum that made us think - wow, this is going to happen," Mr Farage said before setting off in a brand new pair of sneakers and trench coat.

"I believe we are witnessing a betrayal. I think we are witnessing, in terms of our nation's democratic history, one of the saddest chapters."

Mr Farage was a poster child of the pro-Brexit effort whose calls for barriers to migrants and sovereignty from EU rules struck a cord in working-class cities such as Sunderland. He resigned as leader of the populist UK Independence Party after the 2016 vote, and now heads a new Brexit Party in the European Parliament.

"The country is actually united around 'Let's get on with this'," he told AFP. "The overwhelming majority say 'Let's end this agony'."

Some Britons who voted to stay in Europe hope an extension will give London a chance to negotiate much closer ties than those in Mrs May's current deal. Others will try to use the time to force another Brexit referendum that could overturn the result of the first.

Such talk is anathema to Mr Farage and his supporters.

"We are a little forgotten by the politicians," retired banker Christopher Treggelis said.

"My democratic vote has been ignored," pensioner Steve Coward added as the group set off along their North Sea route.

Sunderland has been shaken in the past month by news that Nissan is ending production of its luxury Infinity models - reversing a decision to build a new sports utility vehicle - at the local plant.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2019, with the headline 'Farage leads 435km march against Brexit 'betrayal''. Print Edition | Subscribe