The man behind the anti-prorogation petition speaks out about why he took action
PUBLISHED: 12:07 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:50 30 August 2019
The man who started the million-signature petition against prorogation says he saw the British army patrolling the Northern Irish border as a child - and he doesn’t want to see it happen again.
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Mark Johnston, who saw his petition go live around two weeks ago, has worked in Brussels for 17 years as a freelance environmental policy analyst, and said he was also motivated by the threat of climate change to start the petition. "It was a personal initiative," he said.
"I would like to see the world saved from climate change and that's not possible unless you keep the EU together," he told The New European. "The EU has long maintained a strong position on climate, defending the Paris Agreement."
He had the foresight to set up the petition, which is simply titled "Do not prorogue parliament", when the issue of possible prorogation reared its head during the Tory leadership campaign.
"It was clear in July, when the winning candidate did not rule out prorogation," said Johnston. "The possibility was always there that he would launch an ambush."
Petitions on the government's website are strictly regulated and take at least a couple of weeks to be cleared, Johnston explained. The wording, he said, was specifically designed to buy time and keep options open in the event of a general election or a second referendum.
The petition went live around two weeks ago, where it slowly picked up around 3,000 signatures at first.
But it was when Boris Johnson launched his assault on parliament's sitting time that signatures rocketed. Johnston was out at a birthday celebration when he saw the figures suddenly climb up. After the prime minister's announcement, the petition "had about 1,000 signatures a minute for 12 hours," said Johnston.
Soon, it had easily qualified for consideration for a debate in parliament, by hitting over 100,000 signatures.
READ: Petition against proroguing parliament smashes 100K target
But for Johnston, that's not really the point. "It's a measure of the anger," he said. "I don't expect, and I don't really care if it gets its own debate in parliament. It's shown how big the issue is now."
He's aware that there will be new challenges on the table by the time the petition would receive a debate. "I still expect there to be lots of ambushes and many more challenges to this story next week when parliament returns," said Johnston.
Now, the petition stands at over 1.5 million signatures and is still growing.
In his 30-minute conversation with The New European, it grew by 5,000 names.
He said he's "surprised and quite moved" at the success the petition has had so far, despite having to block a few pro-Brexit accounts - he has received a small measure of abuse and insults on social media. "'Your pathetic petition', that sort of thing," he quoted.
But childhood memories of visiting Northern Ireland has meant that this is a small price to pay to get the word out.
"My dad is from Northern Ireland which means I can have an Irish passport," he explained, adding that his family often visited relatives there.
"When I was a kid, I saw the British army on patrol on the border first hand," he said, adding: "If you go there now, it's invisible."
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And this mission of preserving peace applies for the whole union, he said. "The British live on an island and haven't experienced the damage and destruction of war, that the people of the continent have," he said. "So for me ... the EU is still a peace project."
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter