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Britain's Prime Minister Suspends Parliament Until Oct. 14

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This morning - a crisis, potentially a constitutional one, in British politics that we are following. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, asked the queen to suspend Parliament, and she has agreed to do just that. This comes as the U.K. is veering towards crashing out of the European Union at the end of October. Members of the opposition Labour Party are furious, calling this move anti-democratic and a coup. And for more, we go to our correspondent in London Frank, Langfitt.

Frank, what is happening here?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, David, what the prime minister did today is said - he told the queen he needed more time for his agenda, to put together an agenda for the new government that he's leading right now. Parliament will return next week but could be suspended as early as September 9 and then would be out until mid-October. Johnson says he's not trying to pull a trick here. He's not shutting down debate on Brexit. This is what he said earlier this morning answering his critics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October the 17 summit - ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues.

GREENE: OK. So the prime minister is saying nothing to see here, but there are...

LANGFITT: Exactly.

GREENE: Reaction among lawmakers is - I mean, they're freaking out.

LANGFITT: Yeah. There's a lot of anger, and it's - I want to say, David, it's not just political. You listen to constitutional scholars. They're shaking their heads as well. And what basically the Labour Party opposition is saying, particularly people who want to stay in the European Union or fear a no-deal Brexit, they think that Johnson's kind of rigging the system. Ben Bradshaw - he's a Labour MP. He wrote on Twitter earlier today this would be a coup, plain and simple, against our parliamentary democracy. John Bercow - he is the head of - he's the speaker of the House of Commons. He called it a constitutional outrage. And former Prime Minister John Major also weighed in, making the same point. Here he is talking about past prime ministers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MAJOR: If I look back through British history, I cannot imagine Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Churchill or Mrs. Thatcher even in their most difficult moments saying let us put Parliament aside while I carry through this difficult policy that a part of my party disagrees with. It is fundamentally unconstitutional.

GREENE: So, Frank, angry as people might be, is there anything they can do or does Johnson have the power to just get his way here?

LANGFITT: I think that there are things they can do, but they don't have much time, which is part of the reason they're so angry. They're back in Parliament on Tuesday. The preference would be to try to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31 and try to delay this. This would mean they'd have to actually seize control of, basically, the legislative process in Parliament. They could get some help from that from John Bercow because he's very angry, and he has tremendous power in Parliament. The second choice would be a no-confidence vote. Part of the difficulty there is even if the opposition were able to win a no-confidence vote against Boris Johnson and Boris Johnson loses, he could still try to put off a general election until after the Brexit deadline.

GREENE: Could this somehow be part of Boris Johnson's Brexit strategy here?

LANGFITT: I think so. I mean, one thing, it's clear he's trying to run out the clock. The other thing, though, is if Parliament is able to block him, what he might then do in a general election later on in the fall is run against Parliament and say they're the ones who are anti-democratic. They're the ones who are foiling the will of the people three years ago - more than three years ago - who voted for Brexit in this country.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Thanks so much, Frank.

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