More than 280,000 people have signed a petition set up by The Independent two days ago calling for the UK to have a “final say” on the Brexit deal with a second referendum.
The petition surpassed an initial target of 20,000 within minutes of being set up on Change.org on Wednesday after the title launched its campaign for another Brexit vote on its digital edition front page the same morning.
It has now nearly reached a target of 300,000, but independent editor Christian Broughton told Press Gazette he wasn’t ready to shut the door on it yet with thousands signing up every hour.
The Independent was a pro-Remain title ahead of the 2016 in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, but Broughton said the campaign was not about sides.
“I really thing people have lost confidence in the [Brexit] process,” he said.
“Without doubt right now we have a better idea what could happen with Brexit than we did two years ago, but there’s still an awful lot of uncertainty.”
He said the editorial team had considered running a second vote campaign for a while, but that he felt there had been a “tipping point” in public support for it in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Theresa May – the intended target of the petition – has had a tough time passing off her proposed Chequers deal for Brexit, with her own party split and the EU’s chief negotiator already rejecting aspects of it.
Said Broughton: “A lot of people now feel very strongly that there needs to be another process of sign off, a point of completion, for Brexit – and if we are to leave that to a parliamentary process I don’t think people have got faith in that anymore.”
He added: “People are bound to say it’s ‘Remoaning’, but it isn’t, because if it was we would have done this two years ago. Just look at what [Brexit] looks like right now, just look at the mess it is.
“It think it’s hard for anyone really to feel, whatever side of the debate they are on, that two years ago this is what they voted for – this is right on track. I don’t think anyone feels that.”
He said the campaign wasn’t intended as a criticism of either side, Remain or Leave, but that the Independent was demanding that an option to stay in the EU be on the ballot a second time around.
“To have a deal or no deal [Brexit], that just doesn’t seem to fit with the sentiment of the people and that’s the reason why we are doing this thing,” he said.
To have a deal or no deal [Brexit], that just doesn’t seem to fit with the sentiment of the people and that’s the reason why we are doing this thing,” he said.
In the petition statement Broughton assures readers that the Independent will “retain balance and present many different points of view” on Brexit, but that it believed “a referendum on the final deal is right”.
He told Press Gazette he thought people were looking for newspapers to be a “fulcrum” for public opinion. “A newsbrand like the Indy can be a point where people with ideas come to discuss and to engage.
“Of all the digital engagement metrics now possible, to have people signing a petition is about as high-engagement as you’re going to get with your readership.
“In 2018 people are looking to a news publisher they respected over many years to make that case and capture that sentiment and we are going to be as faithful as we possibly can to those people to lead this campaign in a positive direction and let it run as along as we need to run it.”
Brexit has proved a controversial topic for the UK media. Earlier this month the BBC had to defend itself over claims that it had not done enough to cover Brexit “scandals” after columnist Nick Cohen accused the corporation of “journalistic cowardice”.
Departing Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre also warned that reversing the paper’s support for Brexit would be “editorial and commercial suicide”.