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Britain's Tentative Brexit Deal Is Unpopular Among The Public


Theresa May is still the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Lawmakers who talked of a vote of no-confidence have yet to show they have the strength to force one. May insists her plan to withdraw from the European Union will be ratified this weekend in Brussels, even though it is extremely unpopular at home. NPR's Frank Langfitt wanted to hear how this is playing with the British public, so he talked with people in the town where he lives outside London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: This is The Ashley Park. It's a red brick Victorian pub in a town called Walton-on-Thames. It's right next to the station where I take the train into London each morning. And sharing a pint tonight are friends Fraser Scott and James Mould. They completely disagree on Brexit. But after last week, they agree on at least one thing.

FRASER SCOTT: It's a complete disaster. Everything's falling apart.

LANGFITT: That's Scott.

JAMES MOULD: Absolutely pathetic, doesn't help anybody at all. There's - no one likes it, I think apart from Theresa May.

LANGFITT: And that's Mould.

Neither Scott, who voted for Britain to stay in the EU, nor Mould, who voted to leave, can stand the agreement May has negotiated for the U.K. to exit the European Union. The EU, which has the leverage, has insisted the U.K. continue to abide by its customs regulations until the two sides can strike a new free trade deal, figure out a way to avoid new customs posts on the island of Ireland, all of which infuriates Mould.

MOULD: It's probably the worst possible outcome because we're still going to be tied into Europe's laws and trade agreements for so many years. So it's neither Arthur or Martha. It's not good for anybody.

LANGFITT: Mould explained that neither Arthur nor Martha means neither one nor the other. Mould, who's 54 and drives a commuter train, thinks May should step down.

MOULD: She's not our boss; we're her boss. She should do what the people have said we should do. The vote was to leave Europe, so she should be making sure we leave Europe.

LANGFITT: Scott, who's 28 and works as a train guard, says Britain faces two options, crashing out of the EU with no deal, which will damage the U.K. economy, or holding a second referendum, which May has rejected.

SCOTT: I think the whole thing is that much of a shambles that I don't know if anyone could fix it. You either need to hold to it or accept that we're going to live in interesting times for many years.


LANGFITT: While British politicians of all stripes have criticized the prime minister, she has an admirer on the other side of the pub.

JENNY CLEMENTS: Theresa May shows a sort of strength that has a Maggie Thatcher sort of feel about it.

LANGFITT: Jenny Clements has just finished a chickpea and spinach pie. She says extracting the U.K. from the EU is an extremely difficult task, and she's impressed that May's kept at it.

CLEMENTS: I think she has surely had the most dire week. And to actually still be there and she's still banging the drum is absolutely amazing.

LANGFITT: And the prime minister may have the chance to bang that drum a while longer. Support for a no-confidence vote by her party has yet to materialize. After Sunday in Brussels, the next big hurdle is getting the withdrawal agreement through Britain's Parliament, which at the moment looks very difficult.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Walton-on-Thames, England. 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.