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Britain's Boris Johnson Vows To Leave EU By Oct. 31

Aug 14, 2019
Originally published on August 15, 2019 11:39 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A showdown over Brexit - well, yet another showdown over Brexit, I should say - may be coming next month in the United Kingdom. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, again threatened a no-confidence vote on the country's new prime minister. That would be Boris Johnson, a Brexiteer who is vowing to leave the European Union one way or another by October 31.

Always making sense of British politics is our correspondent in London Frank Langfitt, who joins us. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: OK. So help us understand this no confidence vote. Why are people mad at Boris Johnson? And I guess, what is his Brexit strategy, which is probably the reason a lot of people are mad at him right now?

LANGFITT: Well, you're exactly right. Let's just back up because it's been a while since we've discussed this. But the U.K., as you remember, already has a deal with the EU to leave, but Parliament voted it down three times.

GREENE: Right.

LANGFITT: What Johnson says he wants to do is make a big change - get rid of this customs arrangement with the EU to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Most everyone thinks the EU will never agree to this. And they think it's part of Johnson's strategy. He wants the EU to say no so he can then take the U.K. out at the end of October- out of the European Union. And so that's - they're very concerned about the economic impact of that. The Labour opposition is against it, and many other parliamentarians just don't want to see this.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, there's talk of, like, catastrophe if there's a no-deal departure. Is - can lawmakers stop...

LANGFITT: I don't know that it'll be catastrophic, but it will be bad.

GREENE: OK.

LANGFITT: And that's the reason that - that's a main reason they're very concerned about it.

GREENE: How - what can Parliament do with their concern? Could they actually stop the prime minister?

LANGFITT: It's possible, but it's not that easy. And they need to move fast. Corbyn wants to do this no-confidence vote, but it's not clear at all that he can win it. And the other thing, David, is even if Johnson loses, there's a thought that he could then put off a general election until after the October 31 deadline, allowing the U.K. to crash out on its own. And so that's a thing that has people very, very concerned. And so they don't have a lot of options.

You know, I was talking to a guy named Robert Hazell. He's a constitutional scholar at the University College London, and this is his take on it at this moment.

ROBERT HAZELL: I think it is quite possible, even though the House of Commons will be very determined to try to stop it, that we will nevertheless leave the European Union with no deal by the end of October.

LANGFITT: And, David, that would cause a political and popular uproar here among many people who want to stay in the EU and don't want see that economic damage.

GREENE: OK. So let's look at another option. If Parliament was able to hold off on a no-deal Brexit, what would happen then?

LANGFITT: Well, and people think this may be Johnson's endgame, that he would run a populist campaign basically blaming British lawmakers and bureaucrats in Brussels, saying they're just a bunch of obstructionists. Now, I talked to another guy. His name's Samuel Lowe. He's a trade expert at the Centre for European Reform. That's a think tank here in London. And this is what Sam said.

SAMUEL LOWE: That Boris Johnson calls a general election and uses the narrative - it's the people versus Parliament. I tried to deliver Brexit, and Parliament stopped me. So therefore, vote for me and give me a bigger majority, and I'll be able to deliver what you want.

LANGFITT: And most people here see - like Lowe, they see Johnson as highly flexible, a political animal. And this is the way Lowe thinks people should be viewing the prime minister right now.

LOWE: I think the only question that really matters to Boris Johnson is, how do I remain prime minister? And everything else he's doing right now flows from that. My feeling is that he's trying to put himself in the position he feels best able to win a general election.

GREENE: New prime minister - just the latest chapter, Frank. It's been three years we've been talking about this.

LANGFITT: Indeed, David.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt for us, the latest on Brexit, which continues the debate in the U.K. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.