The Latest From Britain's Parliament And Where Brexit Stands

Sep 4, 2019
Originally published on September 4, 2019 4:48 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It has not been a good day for Boris Johnson. The U.K. Parliament has dealt two more big blows to the prime minister's Brexit plans. After the House of Commons seized control of the legislative agenda, MPs voted to block Johnson from crashing the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Johnson then called for a general election next month, ostensibly to break the Brexit deadlock, and lawmakers defeated him again. To make sense of another momentous day in British politics, we turn once more to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. And, Frank, first things first, do today's votes mean that the prime minister is now forbidden from taking the country out of the EU at the end of October with no deal?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Not quite, Ari.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.

LANGFITT: And that's what explains - well, that's what explains what - why this seems like, on the surface, such a crazy night. But stick with me here. There's an internal logic.

SHAPIRO: OK.

LANGFITT: So basically, what happens is the bill now moves to the house - it goes now to the House of Lords. It's the upper chamber. It's just like a bill going to the Senate in the United States. But there, it faces scores of amendments, and there will be filibustering. And basically, the people, the rebels who have been competing against Johnson trying to stop him from going out with a no-deal Brexit, think that this is a trick, that the prime minister is going to try to - was going to try to get them to vote for an election tonight, and then he would suspend Parliament before they could get this bill blocking no-deal through.

So here's how Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, put it tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY CORBYN: They offer of the election today is a bit like the offer of an apple to Snow White and the wicked queen because what he's offering is not an apple or even an election, but the poison of a no-deal.

(CHEERING)

LANGFITT: And, Ari, what this speaks to right now is the complete lack of trust - certainly among the opposition, but also many citizens in the United Kingdom - regarding Boris Johnson. Johnson, as I mentioned - you know, we've been covering this - he plans to suspend Parliament. That's hugely controversial. People have been in the streets chanting stop the coup. And yesterday, Johnson, after he lost a big vote yesterday, he actually kicked 21 lawmakers out of his own party for voting against him.

So people are - as they watch Johnson's maneuvers, they are very, very cautious.

SHAPIRO: It's just incredible. So he failed to get support for an election. Does that mean that there will not be one?

LANGFITT: No, not quite.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.

LANGFITT: It's just there's no - but there's just no agreement yet because they're very - they think he's very crafty. So the fact of the matter is I think there needs to be an election in this country. Johnson has lost his majority. He had the - of course, there was a defection yesterday, plus he kicked these members out of the - out of his party. And what he wants is either in October - that's when he wants to do it - get a sizable majority so that he can then come back and get Brexit through in some fashion. He - maybe even have enough votes to get a no-deal Brexit through.

Tonight, he ridiculed Corbyn for refusing to take up his challenge. This is how he put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Forty-eight hours ago, he was leading the chants of stop the coup; let the people vote. Now he's saying stop the election, and stop the people from voting.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: I think this - I think he has become the first, to my knowledge, the first leader of the opposition in the Democratic history of our country to refuse the invitation to an election.

SHAPIRO: Frank, these are such big questions. So much uncertainty, and the fate of Britain depends on it. How much time does Parliament have to get this all sorted out?

LANGFITT: Not much, and that's why you're seeing so much tension and so much anger in Parliament. Johnson could suspend Parliament as early as Monday, so there's not a lot of time. And people are really rushing. They want to rush it and get this bill through.

SHAPIRO: And if there is an election this fall, how might it play out? And would that resolve Brexit necessarily?

LANGFITT: No, and that's what sort of so remarkable, Ari. The electorate is very divided. Nobody has a strong majority. None of these parties do. We could end up with another hung Parliament, actually, at the end of an election if it comes in October.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.