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Britain's Parliament To Vote This Week On Theresa May's Brexit Terms


Tomorrow, the Parliament in the U.K. is supposed to vote on a Brexit plan. This is Prime Minister Theresa May's proposal to preserve many links to the European Union until the U.K. can establish terms to genuinely break away. Nigel Evans, our next guest, plans to vote no. He is a leader of a backbench committee of members of Theresa May's own conservative party. He supports Brexit but not this plan. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: Do you believe that your side has the votes to defeat Prime Minister May's plan?

EVANS: Absolutely. There's about 100 Conservative backbenchers who've already indicated that they will not support this plan, indeed backbenchers including some former ministers. Two former chief whips have said that they will not back this plan. And so there's nothing more certain than this if it goes to a vote, will be defeated. And I have got a message through to the prime minister to ask her to postpone the vote because why be humiliated when she really needs to listen to the voice of backbenchers and the voice of the people of the United Kingdom, which is we want to leave the European Union, but we do not want to be trapped in a backstop?

INSKEEP: Can you help us understand your position here? Because May's plan of course is to - for an indefinite period to continue conforming to European Union rules, which means that British businesses can continue doing business under the old rules until a new deal is made. What's wrong with taking the time to get the exit right?

EVANS: Well, there are two things wrong with it. One is it puts Northern Ireland in a different position to the rest of Great Britain during this so-called backstop period, which means that they would be in the single market and customs union and that Great Britain wouldn't be. And we rely on the votes of 10 Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party MPs. They've already said that they would not tolerate this. And so if a miracle on 34th Street did happen and we managed to - the prime minister managed to get this bill through, then we cannot govern for the rest of the duration of the Parliament. Without their votes, it simply doesn't happen.

And then the other bit that is a problem for conservative backbenchers is that the British people voted to leave the European Union, to take back control. Under the backstop, we give the control and ability to leave the European Union back to the European Union. We cannot unilaterally leave the EU, which we can do now. And so we'd be in a much worse position than we currently are.

And what the prime minister needs to do - and apparently she's been talking to the European Union Commission last night and today - is that she needs to get an agreement with them that quite simply - she's going to Brussels on Thursday. She needs to open the renegotiation on the treaty, and she needs to solve those two problems - get the DUP back onsite so we can govern after Tuesday, and also that we are able to unilaterally leave the European Union.

INSKEEP: So this is your scenario then. The vote is either called off or this plan is defeated, and then you're hoping the prime minister goes back to Brussels and gets some what sound like tweaks to this plan. Is that...

EVANS: Well, they're major tweaks because the European Union says they won't reopen negotiations. But having said that, politicians say all sorts of things. But when you come up to the wire, then reality kicks in. And so the problem for the prime minister, though, is a little bit more dramatic if she allows it to go to a vote and she faces a humiliating defeat because you need 48 signatures from conservative members of Parliament to the chairman of the committee that I'm an officer of, which is the 1922 Committee. And if 48 signatures are received from those MPs, then there's a vote of confidence in the prime minister.

INSKEEP: Would you, Mr. Evans, be signing one of those letters under any circumstances? Is it time for a new prime minister?

EVANS: No. Because I'm joint secretary to the committee, I would be conducting both the vote of no confidence and indeed any future leadership elections. And therefore, I think it would be totally inappropriate for me either to send a letter or indeed to comment about my intentions.

INSKEEP: Are there a lot of members of your committee who are ready for a new prime minister?

EVANS: As far as backbenchers are concerned, we know that there are a number of signatures already in to the 1922 Committee because they've made it public. But only one person knows how many letters are in, and that is the chairman of the committee. And up until this moment, there are not 48. But if the prime minister allows this vote to go to Parliament on Tuesday and she is defeated and humiliated, then I believe - and I'm listening to what some of my colleagues are saying - that they're prepared to write letters that they haven't done already.

INSKEEP: Nigel Evans is a conservative member of Britain's Parliament. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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