Hundreds attend rally calling for second vote on EU membership
Hundreds of people have attended a rally in Belfast calling for a second referendum on EU membership.
Opponents of a no-deal Brexit say the public deserves to make the decision over whether the British Government’s deal is the right choice.
Campaigners from across the political and business spectrum attended the Let Us Be Heard event in Belfast’s Ulster Hall.
Speakers at the rally included Dominic Grieve QC MP, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna, Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey and MEP Naomi Long as well as speakers from business industries.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit, has vowed that the UK will leave the EU on October 31.
Former Labour spin doctor and second referendum campaigner Alastair Campbell, who compered the event, urged the public to back their campaign and call for a second vote.
“It’s essential given all the broken promises, given the fact that the easy Brexit they promise doesn’t exist, and any other form of Brexit is collapsing under us,” he told the crowd.
“Given all we learn from the Government itself, does any country on Earth ever seriously inflict (harm) on itself, knowing the damage it set out, even in the sanitised version of the operation Yellowhammer paper.
“Are we seriously to become the first country in history to impose sanctions on ourselves?”
The People’s Vote campaign has organised a series of rallies across the UK which they say will culminate in a march through central London on October 19.
Former Tory attorney general Mr Grieve told the large crowd that Mr Johnson does not understand the difference between truth and falsehood.
He added: “The good news is that we are not leaving on October 31. The House of Commons, I am pretty certain, has made it quite clear that will not happen and if he (Prime Minister) continues to follow this unusual fantasy he will find that he will be out of office.
“Instead, there is an opportunity for a reset.
“A chance to go back and start applying some of the common sense with all the young people and the business community on this platform.
“It’s not to disregard the 2016 referendum result, but to point out politely that none of the things that have come to pass were predicted by the leavers and the situation we are in now bears no resemblance to the paradise-like conditions that they anticipated for us.
“There is nothing undemocratic about going back and asking people to confirm their views.
“What are the leavers frightened of?
“Together, with a united voice, we will prevail in this matter and we will get the outcome we seek.”
Leader of the Alliance Party Ms Long told the demonstrators that the Good Friday Agreement is under threat from Brexit.
“We all know in Northern Ireland that while Brexit is challenging for everyone, for the EU, it is an existential challenge here in Northern Ireland and a no-deal would be catastrophic,” she said.
“We have to avoid that at all costs. Brexit was never a good idea.
“At a time when the main challenges that face us are global challenges, whether it’s climate, security, peace, tax transparency, our lives are more connected than ever before.
“It makes no sense to withdraw from a large international influential block.”
Ms Long added: “People were promised a unicorn Brexit, a Brexit that doesn’t exist, a fantasy Brexit where we could trade with everyone and the EU, freely without charge.
“But we could also at the same time, protect all of our jobs, protect all of our skills, make so much money from taking back control and yet at the same time we were told we would continue to trade normally with the European Union.
“That Brexit does not exist. This Prime Minister can’t even deliver a donkey of a deal.
“Let’s get the facts out there that we will be worse off as a nation.”
Businessman Bill Wolsey said that Northern Ireland has enjoyed peace and that foreign nationals have “enriched our society”.
Referring to Mr Johnson’s controversial “dead in a ditch” comments, Mr Wolsey said: “My first thought was… I wish he would come over here, there’s a couple of boys who would put him to the test.”
Ms Bailey said that Northern Ireland stands to lose the most in Brexit.
She added: “I view the referendum as a bad call and an in-house fight. It was never intended to be in the interest of the people.
“I don’t see it as the will of the people. We have 52% of people who voted to leave based on a campaign found to have broken electoral law and told lies and misinformed people.
“I don’t see that as democratic.”
Ms Hanna said: “The message we have to send from here is we want our stability and future back.
“This is about protecting the welfare of everyone here, including those who voted to leave.
“We need to say to those who voted to leave that we understand your concerns.
“We can end austerity or we can end Brexit but we certainly cannot do both.
“The most plausible way out of this quagmire is a second vote.”