Prime Minister May's Brexit Speech Will Include A Warning About Parliament
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that rejecting her Brexit plan would be a disaster for British democracy and that if Parliament defeats her Brexit deal tomorrow, the U.K. may not leave the EU at all.
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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: People's faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm. We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.
MARTIN: All this comes on the eve of what will be one of the biggest votes in the British Parliament in decades. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London. Good morning, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: What did Theresa May say in this speech today that she has not said in the many times that she has made her case for her Brexit plan?
LANGFITT: (Laughter) She has made it many times. What she suggested is if Parliament doesn't back her Brexit withdrawal agreement, which sets out the terms for how the United Kingdom would leave the European Union the end of March, that members of Parliament are likely to torpedo the Brexit process and try to stop the U.K. from leaving the EU. That, of course, would, from her perspective and many perspectives here, defy the democratic decision of the British people, which they took in 2016.
MARTIN: I mean, this is fascinating - right? - because up until now, she had been making an economic argument - that if you don't buy my Brexit plan, there will be a so-called hard Brexit, and that's going to be devastating for the economy. Now she's saying it's going to undermine Britain's entire democracy, so...
LANGFITT: Yeah, exactly.
MARTIN: ...Is she just ramping up rhetoric...
LANGFITT: She - well...
MARTIN: ...Or was she understating the threat?
LANGFITT: Well, I think she's raising the stakes because she looks - she could be heading for a very big defeat here. And so what she wants to do is impress on her Brexiteer colleagues in her own party that if they don't back her, they face the worst scenario that they've thought about, which would be actually being stuck inside the European Union. It's the last thing that they want. And she spoke about this earlier today. Here's how she described it.
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MAY: It's now my judgment that the more likely outcome is a paralysis in Parliament that risks there being no Brexit. That makes it even more important that MPs consider very carefully how they will vote tomorrow night.
MARTIN: Frank, can you walk through - if we can skip...
MARTIN: ...A couple steps here, what happens if they don't support her plan? What happens if there's another referendum?
LANGFITT: There's a whole range of possibilities. It's uncertain, and there's a lot of risk here. So if it gets voted down tomorrow night, the Parliament has given Prime Minister May 3 days to come back with a Plan B. She may go to Brussels on Wednesday, try to get more concessions on the deal. But people are skeptical that she's going to get anything that's going to win over members even of her own party.
The opposition Labour Party, they see an opportunity here. They would like to call a vote of no confidence in the prime minister's government. And what they're aiming to do is trigger a general election, where they hope their head, Jeremy Corbyn, would end up in No. 10 Downing Street, knocking off the prime minister and pushing the Conservative Party out of power.
Now, the other thing is Parliament could move to take control of the Brexit process. And that could mean everything from trying to come up with a new deal with the EU - that's unlikely - trying to delay Brexit - a little more likely. And then the thing she's most concerned about and talking about today is the idea that there could be a second referendum with an option to stay inside the European Union.
MARTIN: Do you think people's minds have changed through this? I mean, if they were to have a second referendum, would the outcome be any different?
LANGFITT: That's a great question. So I would've said six months ago no, but we've seen some drift, so I think it might be closer to a 52/48 to stay in the EU, but that may not be enough. And then at all - if you had a second referendum, you talk to people who even voted to remain in the EU who actually would agree with what the prime minister said today and said, you know something? I really want to, you know, stay in the EU but not at the cost of the integrity of British democracy. And so you could still see, even if it went to a second referendum, there's no guarantee that remain would win.
MARTIN: You've covered this since the very beginning, since that first Brexit vote in 2016. How are you watching this unfold? What are you thinking about?
LANGFITT: I think there are some really interesting lessons for democracies. One is that this is an incredibly complex issue. And to take it to, you know, the voters, basically untangling 40 years of economic integration, is asking a lot of voters. The second thing is if you're going to do something like this, you need a plan. And it's very clear the government of the United Kingdom did not have a plan for dealing with this, which is one of the reasons we find ourselves in a pretty chaotic situation here in London.
MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt for us this morning from London. Thanks so much, Frank.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.
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