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British Prime Minister Postpones Critical Brexit Vote


What now for Theresa May? U.K.'s prime minister had to postpone a vote on her Brexit plan because she didn't have the votes to get it through. She is now going back to the Europeans today to try to get better terms. But the EU has basically already said that's as good as you're going to get. The British have been debating Brexit for more than a year and now have a bit more than 3 1/2 months before a deadline to leave - even if there is no deal. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt is with us now.

Good morning, Frank.


MARTIN: So Theresa May, going to meet with European leaders today. What does she hope they can do for her?

LANGFITT: Well, what she's looking for is additional language. I don't think she expects them to reopen these negotiations. They've been going - they went on forever. But what she's looking for some additional language on this divorce agreement that would reassure members of Parliament here that the European Union doesn't intend to have Northern Ireland, which is a part of the U.K., getting stuck inside, basically, an EU customs arrangement for the forthcoming years. This has been a big concern here in the United Kingdom. Politicians see this as threatening the unity of the country. And the question is, will the EU be able to give something to May that she can bring back here to the United Kingdom that can help her in the House of Commons?

MARTIN: So what is her overall strategy right now? Because she keeps getting these setbacks.

LANGFITT: She does. And I think a lot of people are wondering about that. I mean, yesterday people were saying - OK, you didn't have the votes at all to get this done, and you'd known that for, frankly, weeks. Where are you going with this? Some people think she's, at a minimum, playing for time to just to continue to stay in office - but also, perhaps, try to run out the clock. And the idea is that people think she may push this well past Christmas, into January, leaving little time for other options other than her own. And this could increase the risk of the U.K. actually walking away with no deal, which people think would be very bad for the economy here. And in fact, Prime Minister May - yesterday in the House of Commons, she sort of underscored this. Let's take a listen.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: If you want to leave without a deal, be upfront that in the short term, this would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden.

MARTIN: I mean, yesterday was extraordinary - right? - in Britain's House of Commons. Can you tell us what happened?

LANGFITT: It was. Of course, it seems like almost every day there is pretty remarkable now, Rachel - ever since the Brexit vote but particularly in the last few weeks and months. There were heaps of criticism on the prime minister, incredulity that she was pulling this vote. And there was even a protest, a backbencher from the opposition Labour Party took what's called the parliamentary mace. Now, the mace here in Britain is a symbol of royal authority. Without the mace, the House of Commons can't meet. And this man was protesting the government's handling of Brexit. Now here's John Bercow. He's the speaker of the House, saying he's happy to see the mace come back. It didn't take too long.


JOHN BERCOW: I'm grateful to a dedicated servant of the House for bringing forward the mace and restoring it to its place.

MARTIN: I mean, it is just chaos, though. She can't get her own government behind her. She's not going to get a better deal, it doesn't appear, from the EU. She just wants...

LANGFITT: Not much.

MARTIN: ...Reinforcement language. Is there any way Theresa May keeps her job?

LANGFITT: Well, I will say this, Rachel: she's lasted a lot longer than anybody thought she would. What we're waiting to see - and this has been a threat for months now - is, are there enough members of her own Tory party who will put in letters calling for a vote of no confidence? It would take 48 letters. From all we understand, they're not at that point yet. Seems like they're going to at least give her another day in Europe. We'll have to see how that goes. The question is - even if she comes back with nicer language from the EU, will that actually be able to get it through the House of Commons? I don't think people necessarily see that.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt with the latest on Brexit.

Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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