British Parliament Rejects Prime Minister May's Brexit Plan For A Second Time
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All right, to London now, where for the second time in two months Parliament has voted no on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: The ayes to the right - 242. The noes to the left - 391. So the noes have it. The noes have it.
KELLY: The noes have it. And we now stand 17 days before the U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union with the future looking as uncertain as ever. For more on tonight's vote, we are joined by NPR's Frank Langfitt, who has spent the day camped out at Parliament in London. He is still there. Hi, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So not an entirely unexpected result with this vote tonight, but Theresa May met with EU leaders last night. She had walked out of those meetings saying she'd gotten some tweaks through, that Parliament could go ahead and vote without fear. What went wrong?
LANGFITT: Well, I think things were looking a little bit better this morning. And Prime Minister May was - I don't know - maybe relatively confident. But basically members of Parliament ended up disagreeing with her assessment. And as you said, what happened last night - this was in Strasbourg in France. She said that the EU had given legally binding guarantees the United Kingdom wouldn't become permanently trapped inside an EU customs arrangement. That, of course, as we've been talking about now for months, is to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The big fear here in Parliament and for many British politicians is they'll never really escape the clutches of the EU, as they see it. But today May's own attorney general - the U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox - he said he saw it differently - that this new language - it reduced the risk of getting stuck but hadn't eliminated, hence the defeat.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Let me be clear. Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face. The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension. And this House will have to answer that question.
KELLY: She sounds hoarse and exhausted there, Frank.
LANGFITT: She does. She was really exhausted. And what she's referring to right now is, what are the next steps?
KELLY: Right. That's got to be...
LANGFITT: And what happened was, after she lost...
KELLY: ...The 64,000-euro question at this point. What the heck comes next?
LANGFITT: After she lost the vote, she came out and said tomorrow there will be a vote to leave with no deal, which most people do not think will pass because first of all, businesses would hate that. It would be seen as damaging the economy here, so it's not likely to pass.
And then if it does fail, there will be a vote to delay Brexit on Thursday. And what she was really saying there is, OK, you know, as she said many times before, we know what you don't want, but this isn't solving the problem of Brexit, which has of course divided this country now for more than 2 1/2 years.
KELLY: Yeah. That would kind of kick the problem down the road...
KELLY: ...But still no solution in sight. And she would of course need votes for that. So what does the opposition leader, Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn, have to say about all this?
LANGFITT: Well, as usual, Jeremy Corbyn - he came out right after May spoke in the House of Commons today. And what he's been talking about is negotiating a much softer Brexit. And that would be with a customs union, maybe - certainly access to the giant EU market but very different than what Brexiteers want, maybe very different than what a lot of voters who voted in 2016 want. And he also, as usual, took a shot at May and kind of emphasizing what many think Labour really wants right now, where - in the long run, more than anything, and that's power. Here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEREMY CORBYN: The Prime Minister's run down the clock, and the clock has been run out on her. Maybe it's time instead we had a general election, and the people could choose who their government should be.
KELLY: Frank, that's just what you need - isn't it? - a general election with three weeks to go before the Brexit deadline.
LANGFITT: Well, and with chaos and a political vacuum here and nothing getting done, of course that creates opportunities for people. I don't know that we're going to see a general election anytime soon. But, you know, day to day, we never know how this is - this story's going to go.
KELLY: But what are ordinary people saying? When you walk the streets, what on Earth is the mood in Britain these days?
LANGFITT: It's really bad. I think people are disgusted. People are sick of it. Sometimes it's hard to even interview them. They're like, I don't want to talk to you about it. Before I came - when I came in today, I stopped off - I got off the train at Waterloo Station, where I always get off. And I met a guy named Paul Smith. He works in investments here. And here's what he said.
PAUL SMITH: Bored of it all, bored of it.
SMITH: Because it changes every day. There's too much party politics being played when actually the interests of the country should come first. I don't think Parliament's covered itself in glory, really, to be honest.
KELLY: Frank, in the 40 seconds ago - or so that we've got left, you know, we hear people saying they're bored; they're sick of it. What do they want the government to do?
LANGFITT: Well, it is very divided. And there's some people who would like a second referendum of course. They think the people were misled in the campaign in 2016. There are other people who just say - and it's a very British approach - let's just get on with it. Let's just do Brexit and move on. Even if there were - if people made mistakes, even if this won't be the best for our economy, let's just get it done. And so the next two days are going to be crucial to see exactly if Brexit even, you know, looks like it could possibly be done or if it gets kicked off for another couple - three months.
KELLY: Yeah. That is NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from a divided Parliament reflecting a still very divided country. Thanks so much, Frank.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Mary Louise.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.