British Prime Minister Survives No Confidence Vote After Defeat Of Brexit Plan
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In the U.K. today, Prime Minister Theresa May is still prime minister. She has narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in her government in the British Parliament. This comes just a day after Parliament dealt her government the biggest defeat in modern British history, voting down May's Brexit deal by a whopping, thumping, resounding 230 votes. Well, for more on the tumult in the United Kingdom and the future of Brexit, we turn again to our London correspondent, Frank Langfitt. Hey, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So yesterday, Parliament - pick your verb - humiliated the prime minister. Let's start there. So how did she survive today's no-confidence vote?
LANGFITT: Well, the reason - I know it sounds very contradictory, but the votes were on completely different questions. You know, yesterday, Parliament killed May's Brexit deal that many in her conservative opposition Labour Party really don't like. Today's vote was about something completely different. It was a bid for political power. Now, Jeremy Corbyn, he's the leader of the Labour Party. He's trying to topple May's Conservative government. And what he wants to do is trigger a general election so he can replace her in No. 10 Downing Street. And here's what Corbyn said earlier today during the no-confidence debate.
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JEREMY CORBYN: Mr. Speaker, this government cannot govern and cannot command the support of Parliament on the most important issue facing our country. Every single previous prime minister in this situation would have resigned.
KELLY: Well, Frank, she clearly did not resign.
LANGFITT: (Laughter) No.
KELLY: And Jeremy Corbyn did not get his way today. What's Theresa May saying?
LANGFITT: Well, it was really interesting that, you know, over a hundred members of her party actually voted against her deal. That was, you know, yesterday. Her Brexit deal today - the entire party backed her, rallied to her cause. And she pointed out during the debate the deadline to leave the EU is at the end of March, and she warned that the last thing the U.K. needs is another election.
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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: It would deepen division when we need unity. It would bring chaos when we need certainty. And it would bring delay when we need to move forward.
KELLY: Frank, does she emerge stronger from this or more enfeebled than ever?
LANGFITT: I wouldn't say stronger. She just - I think she survives. And the question is, where does she go from here? You know, right after the vote this evening, she said I'm going to reach out to party leaders, and she offered to meet with them. Well, this is the first time she's really done this. So I think it shows that she realizes that she has a very, very weak hand. Now, she says she's going to do this tonight and that by Monday she has to explain to the House of Commons what her new plan for Brexit is. Now, of course...
KELLY: Right, that's a deadline.
LANGFITT: It is - oh, yeah. I mean...
KELLY: She has to come back with a new plan. Yeah, OK.
LANGFITT: Well, the Parliament demanded that. And officials over in Brussels, they publicly reminded her that time is running out. And Donald Tusk, he's the president of the European Council, he suggested in a tweet - as he has in the past - that, you know, if the U.K. just can't agree on anything, maybe the United Kingdom should stay in the EU.
KELLY: What about the possibility hovering over all of this of a do-over, of a second Brexit referendum, which was unthinkable not so very long ago...
LANGFITT: No, that's true.
KELLY: ...But here we are. Is it more thinkable now?
LANGFITT: It is more thinkable. And there was a little bit of movement today. Dominic Grieve - he's a member of Parliament in the Conservative Party - he put in a couple of bills to call for a second referendum. Seventy-one members of Parliament in the Labour Party signed letters calling for a second vote as well. The fact of the matter is that's a small fraction of the House of Commons. It would be a steep political hill to climb. But I was talking to Hilary Benn last night. He's a member of the Labour Party. He supported staying in the EU. And he said that if they can't come up with anything else, a second vote could actually become a last resort.
HILARY BENN: If we end up deadlocked, then I can't think of any other way of resolving this other than going back to the British people and say, I'm sorry. I know we've failed to reach agreement, but you're going to have to take the final decision.
LANGFITT: Which, of course, Mary Louise, would be extraordinary.
KELLY: Yet another extraordinary twist in this extraordinary story. That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thank you.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Mary Louise.
(SOUNDBITE OF NATE SMITH'S "BOUNCE: PARTS I AND II") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.