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U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May Set To Meet With Her Cabinet To Discuss Brexit


The United Kingdom may have the beginnings of a Brexit deal. British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting with her Cabinet at this hour to talk about a draft deal for how to leave the European Union. She's already gotten the go-ahead from European negotiators. Now, she has to convince the skeptics in her own government. Today, she defended the deal in Britain's House of Commons.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: We're negotiating a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, that takes back control of our money, law and borders. We protect security, and we protect the integrity of the United Kingdom.

MARTIN: And the clock is ticking because the U.K. is supposed to leave the EU by the end of March, deal or not. Earlier, we spoke with NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Do we know what is in this version of this plan?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Some of the basics. What this deal would do, if it all works out, would actually require the U.K. to stay inside an EU's customs area until a new free trade deal is worked out between the two sides or find a way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Now, this has been a really big sticking point.

By leaving the European Union, the U.K. creates the need for customs posts between the Irish Republic, which is a part of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is a part of the U.K. Right now, of course, the border's seamless. People go back and forth with no trouble. But after Brexit, the border will actually end up dividing two separate economies. So that's been a big problem, how to sort that out.

MARTIN: Right. So this sounds like it's just kicking that proverbial can down the road. Is it not?

LANGFITT: You know, to some degree, Rachel, you're right about this. This is so difficult that what they're trying to do is figure it out later, but just also make sure that things don't fall apart in the meantime.

MARTIN: So what are the odds she's going to get this through? I mean, where's the criticism in her own government on this?

LANGFITT: Well, one thing that just came up in the last 24 hours is there are some reports that under one scenario, Northern Ireland might continue to align more with EU regulations than with those in the U.K., which has politicians in Northern Ireland upset. Now, you know, this may sound very technical.

But, you know, the United Kingdom is - involves a variety of places - Scotland, Wales, of course England and Northern Ireland. And Northern Ireland doesn't want to feel left out. But there is a broader criticism, and that's that this deal would keep the U.K. stuck inside the EU customs area for years, preventing it from making new trade deals with other countries.

An arch-Brexiteer, a guy named Jacob Rees-Mogg, who's a member of May's own conservative party, he said this was like surrendering to Brussels. And so a lot of criticism from Brexiteers. On the other hand, we could expect the prime minister to argue, you know, in the long run, the U.K. will leave the EU, will take control of its own laws and control immigration, which was a big reason why people voted for this back in 2016.

MARTIN: So do you think she has the votes?

LANGFITT: It's impossible to say at the moment. And I've given up predicting British politics.


MARTIN: I don't blame you on this score, in particular.

LANGFITT: But let's put this in some perspective. She has had three resignations over the last few months over Brexit. But importantly, this morning, there's no news of high-level Cabinet defections.

MARTIN: So let's say she gets the green light from her own government. What happens next?

LANGFITT: Well, the EU would be expected, then, to call a summit towards the end of this month in Brussels to talk this through. And it's expected, since the perception so far is the EU is kind of getting its way, that they would end up actually approving a deal. Then May would have to come and sell it to her own Parliament. And there could be a vote in December. But that's where she could face a lot of opposition. And many people think that could be the biggest hurdle for her to get over.

MARTIN: And obviously, there are political ramifications, I would assume. I mean, if this deal fails, is her political career over?

LANGFITT: Again, in normal times, Rachel, May would have to resign. But these are not normal times, as we've been documenting for two years. She might have to go back to the drawing board. That would be very tough. She might also simply say the U.K. leaves without - will leave without a deal, which could be disastrous for the United Kingdom economy. She could also face a no-confidence vote from her own party. So we'll just have to see what happens.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. 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.