If Brexit Deal Passes, U.K. Prime Minister Agrees To Step Aside
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I think a headline on the BBC's website summed things up perfectly - "Brexit: What Just Happened?" Well, what happened yesterday was this. British Prime Minister Theresa May made an offer. She will resign, quit her job and hand Britain's future to another leader if, that is, Parliament would only approve the deal she worked out with the EU for Britain's exit.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Seventeen-point-four million people voted to take us out of the European Union, and that's what we're going to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT: Hear.
GREENE: Or is it? Lawmakers have already rejected her deal twice. And yesterday, they rejected, well, a lot of things - eight different alternatives. It was quite a moment, as John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, read the results.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN BERCOW: So the noes have it.
UNIDENTIFIED MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT: (Crosstalk).
BERCOW: So the noes have it. So the noes have it.
GREENE: James Gray was there for all of this. He is a member of Parliament from Theresa May's Conservative Party. He supports Brexit - has for a very long time - and joins us this morning. Mr. Gray, welcome.
JAMES GRAY: Morning, David.
GREENE: So what now?
GRAY: Well, I wish I knew. The only way that we're actually going to leave the European Union - and that's something I've been very strongly committed to for very many years - is, I believe, now using the Prime Minister's deal. Now, I don't like the deal. There are a great many elements of it which are entirely obnoxious, so I voted against it twice. But I've come to the conclusion the only way that we can now achieve that is by supporting her deal. And last night's votes in the House of Commons, where eight separate options were voted down, I think proves my point.
So I've now said to the prime minister very publicly that I'm going to support her deal. I think quite a large number of my friends from the so-called European Research Group, which is the right-wing Brexiteer group - quite a lot of my friends from that group will come with me.
We're all watching the Northern Irish party - the Democratic Unionist Party - to see whether or not they might come, too. And I think if they do come with us and if we have another vote on the matter, probably tomorrow or Friday, then I hope that deal will go through.
GREENE: How confident are you? Is it just a hunch, or do you really feel like you've counted a lot of people - enough that would give the prime minister the votes she needs here?
GRAY: Well, the numbers are very, very tight, indeed. I think that if we had the eight DUP votes with us, then we would certainly achieve what we want to achieve. I think - and sometimes in politics, you have to do what you believe in, you have to go with your instincts, you have to go with your beliefs and hope that other MPs will follow you.
GREENE: So what exactly changed? I mean, people have been saying for weeks now that if you don't like this plan, the only way to realistically get a Brexit is to support it. So did you just get desperate enough that you're willing to support a plan that you call obnoxious?
GRAY: Well, what's changed is that for the last two or three months, we've been trying to get the prime minister to go back to the European Union and renegotiate the deal. And we very much hoped that, in particular, she'd get rid of the obnoxious backstop, as it's called - the arrangements for the guard for the Northern Irish border - the border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. We hoped she'd get rid of that. We hoped the European Union would agree to it. And by bringing pressure to bear on her, voting against her deal, we hoped that would happen.
The EU have been absolutely intransigent. They've refused to do that. And therefore, we've now come to the conclusion that even though it's still got that backstop in there and the bizarre things we don't like, nonetheless, if we want to leave the European Union - and 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union - we must now deliver on that promise. And the only way we can do that is by supporting the prime minister's otherwise obnoxious deal.
GREENE: What if Parliament does not support her plan in this third vote? Do you see it as a possibility that Britain might actually have to crash out, which is a scenario that a lot of people say could be very dire for the country?
GRAY: Well, I think that's right. Under the rules laid down by the EU last week, if we don't get this deal through on the 11 - or on the 12, rather, of April, we will then just leave the European Union. Now, I don't like the expression crash out because I actually believe we could leave in a perfectly well-managed way, and we might well have to do that. We can use the World Trade Organization entitlements for trading after that. And that most of the things that are of issue between us can be perfectly happily sorted out in a bilateral basis, so I don't think it'd be a total catastrophe at all if we left. Indeed, many people that I'm speaking to are saying they think it would be a great deal better if we left with no deal than leaving with this particular option. So it wouldn't be catastrophe.
Whether or not Parliament or, indeed, the EU would allow us to leave with no deal on the 12 of April, I think, is very questionable. And they certainly didn't allow us to do so on the 29 of March - tomorrow - which is the original date in the deal. And therefore, I doubt very much they'll allow us to do it on the 11. I rather fear - my horrible fear is that if we don't now support this deal and get it through, probably tomorrow, then we will actually never leave the European Union at all. And what a national humiliation that would've been - to have tried to leave the club, but then finding the rules of the club make it too difficult to do so.
GREENE: Why do you call it a national humiliation? I mean, is there an argument that taking a pause and holding a new referendum and seeing where people stand today is maybe the safest option to take stock of where people sort of are now, compared to when they last voted?
GRAY: Well, let's imagine you did have a second referendum. Then, of course, some people would, no doubt, vote to leave, some people would, no doubt, vote to remain. For all I know, the result may well be precisely identical. It was 52-48 percent in favor of leaving or 52-48 in favor of remaining. That wouldn't change the situation we're in. Not only that, but also, it means it would take us beyond the European Union elections, which are scheduled for May. And we'll, therefore, have to put up candidates for that. What a humiliation that would be, to say we're going to leave the European Union, we detest everything about this, but nonetheless, we aren't going to be allowed to do so.
So I just think that it's right that we, at this stage in our great nation's history - and we love the United States; we love the special relationship - I think it's just right that we, as a nation, should say, well, look; we don't like the European Union, 17.4 million people - a majority of the Brits - voted against it. Let us now find a reasonable way of leaving the European Union, walking out with our heads held high.
GREENE: James Gray is a member of Parliament from Theresa May's Conservative Party, now says he will support her deal. We're going to wait to see if other lawmakers come along with him. Thanks a lot for your time.
GRAY: Thanks, David.
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.