LONDON — Can Brexit be stopped? A force of exasperated Brits is trying.
A petition calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to revoke Article 50 and remain in the European Union surpassed 5.7 million signatures on Tuesday, setting a new record for petitions hosted on the British Parliament website.
The previous record was held by a 2016 petition calling for a second referendum on Brexit. That one garnered 4,150,262 total signatures. A petition to prevent President Trump from making a state visit to Britain received nearly 1.9 million signatures in 2017.
Parliament announced Tuesday that the petition would be debated on April 1.
May’s government, which responds to all petitions that gain more than 10,000 signatures, issued a flat “no” on Tuesday. “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 statement read.
It continued: “The Government acknowledges the considerable number of people who have signed this petition. However, close to three quarters of the electorate took part in the 2016 referendum, trusting that the result would be respected.”
The “Stop Brexit” petition is the fastest growing petition on record. Launched on February 20, it has taken off in recent days. On Thursday morning, the petition had racked up more than 800,000 signatures. By Thursday afternoon, nearly 2,000 signatures being added every minute, according to a House of Commons spokesperson. By Friday, the signatures had risen to 3 million. By Saturday, 4 million.
In some cities -- including London, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh -- more than 20 percent of voters have signed.
Because of the sheer volume of traffic to the site and people fighting to add their names, the site went down at least twice — drawing comparisons online to the “failing” British government.
In a speech at Downing Street last week, May portrayed herself as on the side of the people in wanting to make Brexit happen. Those signing the petition contest that claim.
“The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people.' We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU. A People’s Vote may not happen — so vote now,” the petition reads.
#RevokeArticle50 petition has now passed 2.5 million signatures in a couple of days. Does Theresa May ever pause to consider that she is risking jobs, the economy, national security, and our global influence for something that the public does not even want?” lawmaker David Lammy tweeted Friday.
While some have expressed astonishment at the climbing number, others have been skeptical, suspecting that bots and people using false details to claim British citizenship or residency could be involved. That’s what happened with the 2016 second referendum petition, and thousands of signatures were eventually removed.
The petition’s creator, Margaret Georgiadou, 77, said she had received death threats. “Who wants Brexit so much that they are prepared to kill for it?” she wrote on Twitter.
The surge of signatures comes just days before Brexit was supposed to happen. March 29 was the original departure date. But E.U. leaders granted Britain a reprieve, extending the deadline to at least April 12. If Parliament approved May’s withdrawal deal, that extension could be longer.
In another sign of the momentum behind the anti-Brexit movement, as many as a million people, by some estimates, converged on central London on Saturday for a “Put It to the People” march, calling for a second referendum.
Siobhán O’Grady and Marisa Bellack in Washington contributed to this report.