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Crucial Votes Lead Up To Brexit Deadline, Which Is 3 Weeks Away


Our European editors circulated a memo the other day to help us game out coverage of this week in Britain. Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to bring the U.K. Parliament to some conclusion on Brexit. And the days ahead look like a series of plays in American football. Try to run left. And when that fails, try to run right. And when that fails, throw the bomb. It all starts with an effort to get lawmakers to approve a modified Brexit deal. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe is offering better terms.


JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER: In politics, sometimes, you get a second chance. It is what we do with these second chance that counts because there will be no third chance.

INSKEEP: OK. So what will Parliament do with that second chance? NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How different are the terms that the Parliament will vote on today?

LANGFITT: A bit different. But the question is, are they enough to actually change the mathematics? If you remember, as we've talked before, in January, the prime minister's deal went down to an historic defeat - 230 votes. She's going to have to get at least - flip at least more than a hundred of those votes, obviously, to get it passed tonight. And the changes - there are a couple of changes which you just go over them. The prime minister says she got legally binding changes from Brussels which would prevent the U.K. from being trapped permanently in an EU customs arrangement. This is very important to the United Kingdom. It's very afraid that it's going to try to do Brexit but really not be able to get out of the EU completely. And what we've already seen overnight is one of the opposition Labour Party leaders Keir Starmer - he's an attorney, very sharp - he's actually been picking apart the legal language and basically saying, despite what the prime minister says, this hasn't really fundamentally changed things.

INSKEEP: OK. So one possibility is that Parliament suddenly embraces this modified deal, assumes or decides that it's that's good enough. But what if Parliament does not? What if they vote no again?

LANGFITT: Well, if they vote no again, basically, on Wednesday, there'll be a vote on whether to leave the European Union with no deal at all. And this would not be the intention, obviously, of parliamentarians. But if they voted for this, certainly, most businesses and economists here saying, you're voting to harm the economy because there have not been the preparations, Steve, at all, really, to manage on the 29 if, suddenly, these are two separate economies. You'd have customs inspections at the Port of Dover and things like that. And so that is not expected to pass.

INSKEEP: Well, this is really interesting, Frank, because I gather what is happening here is through this series of votes, which her government might well lose, Theresa May is trying to force Britain to, in some Democratic measure, actually embrace an option, right?

LANGFITT: Of course she does.

INSKEEP: She doesn't want to leave with no deal. Yeah, go on.

LANGFITT: Absolutely. And, actually, what I would say is she - you know, all along, she has said to Parliament, I know what you don't want. Tell me what you do want. But she has been running out of options. And we're now less than three weeks away. And the final option if these two things don't work would come Wednesday or Thursday and, to follow your football metaphor, actually, would not be so much a long bomb. It would be a punt.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: To basically say - no, I mean, seriously, it is a punt. And what she would say is, do we just put this off? And, of course, this is after two years of negotiations. So it would be really embarrassing for the United Kingdom. And the EU has said, you know, they'd have to agree to it. And also, not only that - it wouldn't be a very long extension. And how would it actually help the country kind of come to a conclusion here? So none of that is clear at the moment. The next three days are going to be really important.

INSKEEP: OK. So the punt would be to ask for some kind of delay, and the Europeans would have to agree.

LANGFITT: Precisely.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "SOLITARY BEE") 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.