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A Make-Or-Break Week In British Politics

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This is a make or break week in British politics. When Parliament returns tomorrow, the opposition Labour Party vows to block Prime Minister Boris Johnson from crashing the country out of the European Union with no deal. Today Johnson warned them against it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Let's let our negotiators get on with their work without that sword of Damocles over their necks and without an election - without an election. I don't want an election. You don't want an election. Let's get on with the people's agenda.

CHANG: All right. For more on the state of play at this point, we go now to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So we expect Johnson's opponents to try to block him in Parliament this week. How would that even work?

LANGFITT: Well, they've already got a bill put together. And what they'll have to do, almost certainly beginning tomorrow, is take control of the agenda of the British Parliament, which normally is under the control of the prime minister.

CHANG: Yeah.

LANGFITT: But they're expected to get it 'cause they'll have a lot of support from the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. And then if they can get that through in the next few days and they can block him from leaving with no deal, then we actually think that Boris Johnson is going to do what he just said he wouldn't do and doesn't want to do, which he'll have almost no choice but to call an election and take this back to the people.

CHANG: OK. So where does the Labor Party stand with the possibility of a general election? Would that be too risky?

LANGFITT: They will have to go along with it in order for it to actually happen. Johnson would need two-thirds of Parliament to agree to another general election. And today Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said he wants a general election, he's ready to do this. We'll have to see how that turns out. I think it could be risky for both men.

CHANG: But Corbyn's hoping that Boris Johnson would get knocked out after an election.

LANGFITT: Absolutely. But the question is this. One the reasons people think Johnson may actually want an election is Corbyn is a pretty weak candidate in a lot of ways. He did very well in 2017, but he is a socialist. He's pretty far to the left. And he would be easy, in some ways, for Johnson to paint him as somebody who is going to damage the economy. And just today, Tony Blair, the former prime minister - also of the Labour Party - warned Jeremy Corbyn not to do this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONY BLAIR: He should see an election before Brexit is decided for the elephant trap that it is. The challenge of such an election is brutally clear. No opposition leader or party with these poll ratings has won an election.

LANGFITT: And those poll ratings are not good for Jeremy Corbyn right now. For the month of August, Labour is running 8 points behind the Conservatives, and Corbyn would be a drag on them, it seems, at the ballot box.

The other thing is, why would Boris Johnson actually want an election? He has a tiny, tiny majority. He would love to go into election, get a much larger majority. And that way, he'd have the votes that he needs to push through Brexit.

CHANG: So how do you think the EU feels about all this? What do you think they want?

LANGFITT: Oh, I think they would love to see Brexit either get it done and get a withdrawal agreement - 'cause they don't want to no-deal Brexit, where you could have a lot of disruption at the borders. Or they would like to see - I think they'd love to see a second referendum where they didn't leave the EU at all.

But right now I think they're sitting back in Brussels and they're letting the politicians in the United Kingdom battle this out as they have now for more than three years, waiting to see especially what happens at the end of this week.

CHANG: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Thanks, Frank.

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


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