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British Prime Minister Theresa May Faces No Confidence Vote From Her Party


At this hour, British Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting for her political life. She failed to win enough support for her Brexit plan, and now she's facing a vote of no confidence later today. She is at this moment answering questions in the House of Commons. Let's listen to a bit of her now.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Today I will have meetings - possibly many meetings...


MAY: ...With ministerial colleagues and others.

MARTIN: Many meetings - with us now in London, NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is covering all things Brexit.

Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. So how did it come to be that the British prime minister is now being held to a no-confidence vote by members of her own party, right?

LANGFITT: Absolutely. It's members of Parliament in her own party. What happened is, over the last 24 hours, they reached a threshold of 48 letters from members of Parliament in the Conservative Party, saying they wanted to hold a no-confidence vote. And basically, the way we got here is there's no path forward on Brexit in this country right now. Theresa May has worked out a deal with the European Union that they've agreed to, but her own Parliament and House of Commons doesn't like it at all. They're concerned that Northern Ireland is going to end up trapped in a much closer relationship, perhaps for years, with the European Union. They find that completely unacceptable. The EU's not budging, so we're at stasis. And now you have quite a few members - a lot of members of her own party who say it's time for you to go.

MARTIN: We heard her saying she's going to be working the phones. But how does the math...

LANGFITT: I'm sure she will.


LANGFITT: (Laughter).

MARTIN: How does the math look right now for her?

LANGFITT: Well, it's - let me tell you kind of the - it is going to be an absolutely fascinating day in British politics and a very important one. She needs 158 members of Parliament to win this vote; 124 are declared in her favor. But remember; it's a secret ballot. So how many people are saying - oh, yeah, I'm right behind you...

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: ...Prime Minister - and then are going to vote in a different way?

The other thing is, even if she wins by one vote, you know, that's not a great victory. She could end up just feeling she doesn't have the support to go on. And in terms of the chances of victory, I have given up...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: ...As most people here have, on predicting British politics. Up until 2016, this was relatively predictable and relatively straightforward. But after the referendum on Brexit, everything has been totally unpredictable and increasingly, frankly, chaotic.

MARTIN: What does it mean for Brexit if she loses?

LANGFITT: Well, if she loses, there's going to be a leadership contest. And you can't do that in a day in any country. The leadership contest inside the Conservative Party to see who's going to lead the party and ultimately, most likely, the nation, that's going to take time. There's a January 21 deadline for a vote on her arrangement with the European Union. It's going to push that back. It could mean having to try to delay Brexit, which the United Kingdom could try to do. The other risk - and this is much more serious, I think, for the country - and that is, you could end up with what we call the no-deal Brexit, something that nobody talked about back in 2016. And that would be the United Kingdom actually walking away from this enormous single market without any arrangements for the future, which means customs borders could go up in Calais. A lot of economists think it could do a lot of damage to this economy. So as usual, more and more uncertainty - and we will know more tonight in London.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Thanks so much, Frank.

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

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