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U.K. Lawmakers Reject Theresa May's Brexit Plan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In London today, British lawmakers dealt a massive defeat to Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to exit the European Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MP: The ayes to the right, 202. The noes to the left, 432.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

May's defeat in Parliament now creates huge uncertainty. Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29, deal or no deal. The concern is that without some kind of an agreement, there could be disruption at the borders with Europe and a lot of economic pain.

For more on today's developments, we're joined by NPR's Frank Langfitt at Parliament in London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The fact the Parliament defeated this was not a surprise. The scale of it was shocking. Why did MPs vote so overwhelmingly against this Brexit plan?

LANGFITT: Well, there were a lot of things in this plan for a lot of members of Parliament to dislike. The key thing, I think, Ari, was many were concerned that it would keep the United Kingdom in the grip of the European Union perhaps for years to come with no way to actually get out. There was also a lot of people who want to remain in the EU, and they felt that this was worse than the current deal that they had. And that's one of the reasons I think you saw such huge numbers here.

SHAPIRO: Well, what did the prime minister have to say after this massive defeat?

LANGFITT: Well, she - she knew it was coming, I think. She acknowledged it was a huge defeat. And she pointed out, I think, importantly that there isn't a majority in Parliament right now, it seems, for any solution to Brexit. And here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THERESA MAY: The house has spoken and the government will listen. It is clear that the house does not support this deal. But tonight's vote tells us nothing about what it does support.

SHAPIRO: OK, Frank, so there are clearly questions about the future of the U.K.-EU relationship. But there are even more immediate questions about the future of Theresa May. Can she survive this as prime minister?

LANGFITT: Well, the opposition Labour Party intends to test that and find out. Just not long after the prime minister spoke, a Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of the opposition, he spoke up, too. This is what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY CORBYN: I have now tabled a motion of no confidence in this government.

(BOOING AND CHEERING)

CORBYN: And I'm pleased - I'm pleased that motion will be debated tomorrow so this house can give its verdict on the sheer incompetence of this government.

SHAPIRO: Frank, this defeat comes after more than a year and a half of negotiations with the European Union leading to this deal. You have covered the back-and-forth and back-and-forth. Now that it has been shot down, what happens next?

LANGFITT: Well, it's going to be very interesting to watch. You know, tomorrow, she will face a no-confidence vote. She's actually - and this is extraordinary to say this, Ari - she may well survive. Her party seems willing to back her. She has the Democratic Unionist Party that's propping up her government, giving it a small majority. They think that people will vote with her.

And so then after that, on Monday, she's got to come up with a plan B. But it's hard to know what she's going to come up with because she's really stuck now between a parliament that hates her deal and the European Union that said, you know, we've been through this now for a really long time. We're tired of negotiating.

It's also kind of hard to imagine - even if she went back to Brussels, what would she bring back here that would turn around such a massive defeat? So it's very hard to see where it goes right now.

SHAPIRO: The people who voted against her today include both hardcore Brexiteers and people who don't want to see the U.K. leave the European Union. Is there any chance of another referendum on this?

LANGFITT: You know, I was asking that question from members of Parliament leaving right now, and one that I spoke to said there just is not the votes for that at the moment. And there are members of Parliament who would like to seize control of this process and push it to another referendum.

There were huge crowds outside today, tonight yelling for referendum. But at the moment, we don't see it coming yet. This is kind of a day-to-day process, Ari, and we're just going to have to see how this unfolds in the next few days.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking with us from Parliament in London on this dramatic day. Thank you, Frank.

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


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