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British Parliament To Vote On Theresa May's Brexit Deal


Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan is facing a huge vote today, and it is not looking good for her. In a last push to sell her plan, the prime minister warned of dire consequences if this does not pass.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Fail, and we risk - face the risk of leaving without a deal or the even bigger risk of not leaving at all.

GREENE: Let's bring in NPR's Frank Langfitt from London. Hi there, Frank.


GREENE: OK. So in the long journey that is Brexit, tell us what exactly is happening today.

LANGFITT: Yeah, sure. Parliament is expected to vote down vote the deal, as you mentioned. And the question is going to be, what's the margin of defeat? If it's 20 or 30 - and I was talking to one MP who estimated this to me on Friday; frankly, I think that's a bit generous - the prime minister could try to go back and get more concessions out of the European Union and bring this back for a second vote. But Brussels has been very clear; it's done with negotiations. It's kind of tired of this whole process.

If it's a larger margin, I think you could see the Brexit process go in any number of directions. The U.K. could try to delay. The United Kingdom could walk away from the EU without any deal at all. Of course, that would mean paying, in the short term, a pretty steep economic price or - and the most striking thing would be taking Brexit back to the people for a second referendum.

GREENE: Which would be extraordinary. I mean, a lot of these different...

LANGFITT: It would be completely extraordinary, David. It would basically be saying - I mean, the politicians, who would never put it this way, would be basically saying, we can't sort this out; we know you voted for it; let's see what you think again.

GREENE: Or try again (laughter).

LANGFITT: Yeah, try again.

GREENE: Maybe we can work it out next time.

LANGFITT: No, and, I mean, you know, that is an extraordinary thing for a democracy to do.

GREENE: There's a lot at stake here then. I mean, this is - the prime minister's not really exaggerating.

LANGFITT: Yeah, there's a ton at stake. And I think that - I think, particularly for listeners in the United States, what we're talking about here is the future of the United Kingdom. This is the biggest political decision in decades. The U.K. is going to try to unwind more than 40 years of economic integration with the EU. The EU, of course, is 20 nation - 28 nations that trade as one, an enormous economy, second only to the U.S. And then what the U.K. wants to do, ideally, is go off on its own so it can control immigration - immigration, like in the States, was a big issue in this vote - control who comes here and then build what Brexiteers claim is going to be a much more prosperous future making trade deals - the U.K. - all by itself.

GREENE: Frank - and I'm sure you hear this, too. I mean, some of our listeners will ask why we cover Brexit so extensively.


GREENE: I mean, what do you tell listeners who wonder what it means to people in the United States?

LANGFITT: Yeah. There are a number of answers to that one. One is, this is America's closest ally. We're democracies. We share a common language and of course fought in wars together. And the political chaos that's resulted from the original Brexit vote here has diminished the U.K.'s status in the world. That's certainly not good for the U.S. interests. The Brexit vote was also - kind of on a bigger picture, it was a rejection of this pillar of the post-World War II global order that the U.K. and the U.S. helped build. Now, this is the same world - post-war order that Donald Trump has attacked in the past when he calls the E.U. a foe or that NATO members are deadbeats. So what's happening here is part of a much bigger challenge to the global system that many in America would still argue the U.S. benefits from.

GREENE: So we're sort of learning something about our politics as we watch this play out.

LANGFITT: Oh, I think we are. Yeah. No, I think we are very much. And one - a common element of this is the rise of populism, identity politics and of course economic discontent. You know, the Trump mantra was Make America Great Again. The leave campaign was take back control. And there's been kind of a desire to go back to a more nostalgic time in this country, where people felt that their communities were wealthier and also that it wasn't so diverse from their perspective. They liked it when it was more people like themselves - people who were white Britons.

GREENE: All right, covering a big moment in the journey that is Brexit. That is NPR's Frank Langfitt talking to us this morning from London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David. 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.