Anti-Brexit Britons hit Irish pub in Brussels to watch vote

BRUSSELS (AP) — A small group of British citizens who oppose Brexit were in an Irish pub in Belgium’s capital when they watched a vote on their country’s future.

The James Joyce pub was as good a symbol as any of the easy multinational unity the Britons drinking beer Tuesday night think their country gives up by leaving the EU.

“It feels like an example of the things Britain is choosing to walk away from, which makes me very sad,” Anthony Zacharzewski, a British-Polish citizen who runs a nonprofit organization in Brussels that promotes political participation and democracy, said.

Two men played darts while the British patrons kept their eyes fixed intently on one of the pub’s televisions, waiting for lawmakers in London to say “yea” or “nay” to the withdrawal deal British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government negotiated with the rest of the EU

The atmosphere in the bar, located down the road from the EU’s executive headquarters, was melancholy, even for an Irish pub. Co-owner, Jessica Fitch, summed up the mood, saying Brexit makes her “feel like something has been ripped away from me.”

The agreement’s resounding defeat drew a smattering of applause. Both hard-core Brexit backers, who think the deal doesn’t go far enough to sever ties, and strong supporters of the EU, who hope for a close relationship after the breakup if Brexit isn’t canceled, contributed to the lopsided 391- 242 in the House of Commons.

The anti-Brexit crowd booed May and cried “Yes! Yes!” when the possibility of the U.K. abandoning its planned March 29 departure was mentioned. Fitch searched for positives in the vote’s outcome.

“I suppose it was good that it got defeated so that this isn’t actually a vote for Brexit,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s just another vote to delay the uncertainty.”

While the British friends watched the vote, other patrons watched another contest between Britain and a part of Europe playing out on a different TV, Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League soccer match against German club Schalke.

At least the match gave the British side a clear victory with Manchester City’s 7-0 win.

Tuesday’s vote in London set the stage for two more votes. Parliament is set to vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU as planned but without a deal. If lawmakers say no to that, they would consider Thursday whether to ask the EU to delay the March 29 Brexit date.

Zacharzewski said he might not return to the James Joyce to watch it all unfold

“If they get to one meaningful vote per day, I may have to slack off a bit,” he said as he headed out into a wet Brussels night.