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Theresa May's Leadership Challenged In Wake Of Brexit Chaos

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

British Prime Minister Theresa May could lose her job today. At this hour, May has been speaking to Parliament, where some members of her own party have joined the opposition in calling for a no-confidence vote in her leadership. They don't like how Theresa May has tried to manage the U.K.'s pending departure from the European Union. Here's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY CORBYN: The prime minister and her government have already been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Her behavior today is just contemptuous of this Parliament...

(JEERING)

CORBYN: ...And of this process. Mr. Speaker, the prime minister's appalling behavior needs to be held to account.

MARTIN: Emotions clearly running high in that moment in the House of Commons. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London.

Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about what has been happening today?

LANGFITT: Well, it's fierce in Parliament, as you would imagine. She's kind of fighting for her life. And other people see opportunity. You know, Jeremy Corbyn, it's important to remember, he's been saying the same thing for quite some time. And he is looking - what he wants is her Conservative Party to kind of turn on itself and implode, opening up the possibility down the line for a general election. He is really aiming for No. 10 Downing Street, and so that's kind of where he's headed on this.

Prime Minister May has been coming back and talking about - that, basically, if we don't do this deal that I have, which is very unpopular, there's going to be no deal and a big threat to the United Kingdom's economy. Let's hear a little bit of what she had to say.

(SILENCE)

LANGFITT: Do I have tape from her? OK. So what she articulated and where she's going with this is saying - you know, if you don't back me, it's going to be very bad for the country, and you may not like it. The other point that she's also made about Mr. Corbyn is she said, you know, if you push really, really hard here, we end up with a Corbyn government. And it's important to remember that Jeremy Corbyn is a socialist. He would take the country in a very, very different direction. And so what she's trying to do is put pressure on her members of her own party to say, you know, this is the ultimate result if you keep pushing this. You'll actually end up losing power.

MARTIN: Right. This is unfolding in real time right now. We actually do have that clip of Theresa May. Let's listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: The biggest threat to people and to this country isn't leaving the EU. It's a Corbyn government.

(JEERING)

MARTIN: So she's trying to outline the stakes there.

LANGFITT: Exactly (laughter).

MARTIN: But really, she's on the line. And if she goes, then what happens?

LANGFITT: Well, if she goes - and we'll see what happens tonight. There's going to be a vote, a secret ballot. She needs to get at least 158 members of her Parliament to back her. If she doesn't get that, there will be another leadership contest here in the United Kingdom. It will be the second one in two - I guess, 2 1/2 years, which is a lot. And that could take some time. So the risk there is there's perhaps a delay of Brexit or, as she is really threatening people, a no-deal Brexit. And so what I think Prime Minister May is trying to do is really, in order to get support for herself, is to say, look; all these other alternatives are much worse.

MARTIN: And it adds instability, right? Like, this whole thing is so precarious for so many reasons. I mean, if you think about the markets, they don't like instability. And a leadership change, May will argue, is just going to add to that.

LANGFITT: I think, as we're thinking back, you know, for a long time, one of the great advantages of the political class and political system here is the British are very good at doing politics. They're very strong and steady most of the time.

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: And what we've seen in the past 2 1/2 years has been very uncharacteristic and not really good for the West. You know, the United Kingdom is a very close ally of the United States. We're also seeing a lot of instability in Paris right now, in France. And so all of this is not good, really, for the Western world.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt, following the Brexit twists and turns in London.

Thanks, Frank.

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