Britons voted to leave the European Union by 52 to 48 per cent in 2016, and the following year British Prime Minister Theresa May gave notice of the intent to leave the bloc on 29 March under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
But May has failed on three occasions to pass her EU Withdrawal Agreement, forcing a delay to Brexit until at least 12 April and leading to some for call for the whole divorce to be cancelled altogether.
The online petition to revoke Article 50 took off after a speech when May said that she was on the side of the British public over Brexit. Its website repeatedly failed as it garnered as many as 2,000 signatures a minute.
“This petition has been supported by an unprecedented number of people, although it’s not surprising because we live in unprecedented times,” Catherine McKinnell, an opposition Labour lawmaker, said as she introduced the debate.
The debate is largely symbolic and did not take place in the main chamber of the House of Commons, where discussions on alternatives to May’s Brexit plan were taking place.
Petitions on the government’s website are debated after they reach 100,000 signatures and the government must respond to all petitions with more than 10,000 names.
“This government will not revoke Article 50. We will honour the result of the 2016 referendum and work with parliament to deliver a deal that ensures we leave the European Union,” the government said in response to the petition.
The revoke petition is the largest parliamentary one ever, beating the 4.15 million signatures for a 2016 petition which called for another EU referendum in the event that neither the remain or leave camps achieved 60 percent of the vote.
More than 1.8 million people signed a petition calling for U.S. President Donald Trump to be prevented from making a state visit to Britain, leading to a debate in parliament in 2017.