Breaking Down Brexit
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
I'm Scott Simon. A tumultuous week in Britain - Prime Minister Theresa May released a draft divorce agreement with the European Union, drew heavy criticism from just about everybody in the U.K. Some in her own party wrote letters calling for a vote of no confidence in her leadership. Just how Britain leaves the European Union after more than four decades is still TBD - to be determined. All options are open, including chaos.
We're going to go now to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much for being with us. Thanks so much for being with us. I'm getting so excited.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Can the prime minister survive this?
LANGFITT: It's tough, and it's really uncertain. Seems, though, actually, this weekend, she's getting a little bit of breathing room, for a change. You know, earlier this week, she lost two cabinet secretaries. They resigned over this deal, saying it threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Word now is there's some remaining Brexiteer members of her cabinet. They're pressing her to try to change the deal, go back to the European Union. Or the implication is they're going to quit, too, which would really be very difficult for her.
Problem is also the time is really tight here. She's supposed to go to Brussels on the 25 of November for EU ratification. And, of course, as you mentioned earlier, she could also still face a vote of no confidence from her own party.
SIMON: Why do so many people hate this deal?
LANGFITT: Well, I want to go back to what you were saying in the beginning. This is the biggest challenge. I think it's important that Americans understand this. This is the biggest challenge the U.K. has faced since at least the 1950s. They have to untangle four decades of economic and legal integration between the U.K. and the EU. Later, they have to work out a new trading relationship. And what they're trying to do right now is not force construction of new border posts on the island of Ireland. That's the big rub at the moment.
And after Brexit, the reason for this is the U.K. and the EU will be separate economies, requiring customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Now, that sort of thing would make a lot of people on the island of Ireland really angry. And May's agreement calls for the U.K. staying inside an EU customs area indefinitely to sort of avoid this and, frankly, put it off. That has Brexiteers up in arms. They say, you know, we're going to get trapped inside the EU for many years. And this is the exact opposite of what people voted for here back in 2016.
SIMON: Could this prime minister, or, for that matter, any potential prime minister get a deal that's more to the liking of more people?
LANGFITT: I mean, at the moment, that doesn't seem likely at all. I put this question to a woman named Jill Rutter. She studies Brexit at the Institute for Government. That's a London think tank. And this is what she told me.
JILL RUTTER: All the signs out of Europe are that this has taken ages to do. It's been a really, really, you know, hard grind to get to where we are. And the appetite for reopening is pretty limited.
SIMON: Frank, there was a huge rally a few weeks ago.
LANGFITT: Sure. There was.
SIMON: I know there's been a petition circulating. Are there increasing numbers of Britons who say the only way to resolve this issue is a second referendum on the deal, which would include the option of not leaving?
LANGFITT: You know, the answer to that is, yes and no. There's some remainers who now say, see; we were right. This is just going to cause chaos. It was a terrible decision, and we should get a chance to revote it.
On the other hand, if you look, we haven't seen a big swing in the polls. I've been out. I was out in Liverpool a couple weeks ago. I talked to 80 people. What I found, Scott, is actually more polarization - people who are digging into their positions even more deeply.
The other thing is, for the moment, Prime Minister May is the prime minister. And she says absolutely no rerun of the referendum.
SIMON: Is there an obvious successor if the Tories push out the prime minister?
LANGFITT: That's also a really big question the Tories have to think through. And when I was talking to Jill Rutter, I asked her this question. And here was - here's what she had to say.
RUTTER: There is not a clear candidate to replace the prime minister. For people who think that maybe the answer's a general election, both our big parties are very split on this issue.
LANGFITT: And that, you know, leaves the U.K., which, of course, is America's closest island - ally, in a profound political crisis. And there's no - at the moment, Scott, there's no obvious or easy way out of this.
SIMON: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much for being with us.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Scott.
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