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Break With European Union Is Having Ripple Effects In Britain


Let's talk Brexit now. The British break with the European Union is still a couple of years away. But it's having an effect. It just sent the value of the British pound into a nosedive. It sparked a threat in Scotland of a second independence referendum and triggered a battle over Marmite, the black breakfast spread that's long divided the nation. To make sense of all of this, we turn to our man in London, Frank Langfitt.

Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin with the pound, which is pretty serious. Where is it this morning? And how did it get so far down?

LANGFITT: Yeah, it's pretty remarkable. It's down to about a buck 21. Before the Brexit vote in June, it was a buck 48. So that means it's fallen about 20 percent since then. That makes the pound the worst-performing major currency this year.

And the reason, of course, is the U.K. is talking about leaving the European single market. And economists think that's going to do a lot of damage. There have also been some recent factors. There have been sort of signs and things that people take as xenophobia coming out of the government here.

Just last week, the government was saying that companies here had to give a percentage of all the foreigners on their payroll - that people kind of saw as a witch hunt. And Theresa May - she's the prime minister - she was speaking to her Tory Party last week. And she had a very sort of Britain-first speech. And we can listen to the tone right now.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: But today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road. But if you believe you're a citizen of the world, you're a citizen of nowhere.

MONTAGNE: And, Frank, did the Conservative Party and the prime minister not realize this sort of talk would spook currency markets?

LANGFITT: I mean, they knew they were going to take a hit on the currency. But I think they're surprised at the beating that they took. So it seems like a bit of a miscalculation. And since then, they've actually backpedaled on this list of foreigners working for companies. They've now said, well, you don't have to make that public. And under political pressure, Theresa May is actually now saying she's going to allow debate on Brexit in Parliament.

MONTAGNE: But, you know, as you watch the politics of Brexit play out, do you see any similarities in - with the presidential race here in the U.S.?

LANGFITT: Absolutely. And it's remarked upon here in the United Kingdom often. You know, if you're listening to Theresa May and the thing that she just said, obviously, she's a very polished speaker. She has a certain - it's a restrained style.

But she's cast herself as a populist defending the little guy versus London, the global elites and foreigners. And these are some of the same kinds of themes that we've been hearing from Mr. Trump throughout the campaign.

MONTAGNE: Now, her speech affected more than the currency. It also triggered a threat from Nicola Sturgeon. She's the person who leads the Scottish Parliament. What did she have to say?

LANGFITT: Well, Scotland, you know, voted to stay in the EU. And yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon speaking to the Scottish National Party - she actually had a message to May. It was basically, don't drag us out of Europe with you, or we may vote to leave the U.K. ourselves. And she had this really stark warning. Here's what she said.


FIRST MINISTER NICOLA STURGEON: If you think for one single second that I am not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland's interests, then think again.


LANGFITT: A little bit of a reality check on what Nicola Sturgeon said - the most recent poll actually shows that only 38 percent of Scots actually want to leave the U.K. So some people see this speech yesterday as a bit of a bargaining chip. Maybe it helps satisfy people who are independence-minded in her party but also can push the U.K. for more local political control in Scotland.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, finally, important issue - Marmite. How did Brexit affect a British breakfast bread?

LANGFITT: You know, Marmite is this salty yeast extract. And people either love it or hate it. It's made by the big company Unilever. And Unilever told Tesco, which is a supermarket chain, you know, you need to raise prices because of the falling pound. Tesco balked on this. And Unilever then just cut off the supply.

So stocks of both companies actually fell yesterday. And they've ended up with some kind of undisclosed compromise. So Marmite is back on the shelves. But this is just a sign of the incredible and wide-ranging impact that Brexit is probably going to have here.

MONTAGNE: Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.