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The Week In Brexit

NOEL KING, HOST:

Britain's prime minister, Boris Johnson, had a very bad week, but there was one especially low point. Parliament passed a law that will force Johnson to ask the EU to delay Brexit if there's no agreement in place by next month. But will Johnson do that? Here's what he told a reporter last night...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I'd rather be dead in a ditch.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: So you would resign first, prime minister, rather than go and ask for that delay?

JOHNSON: Look. I just don't - I really - it costs a billion pounds a month. It achieves absolutely nothing. What on earth is the point of a further delay? I think it's totally, totally pointless.

KING: You'll notice he did not answer the question about whether he'd resign rather than ask for a delay. All right. Georgina Wright is a senior Brexit researcher at the Institute for Government in London. Thanks for being here, Ms. Wright.

GEORGINA WRIGHT: (Unintelligible).

KING: The law that Boris Johnson says he will ignore will probably go into effect on Monday. What happens if he ignores it?

WRIGHT: So, obviously, I think a bit of context is really important here. We know that the prime minister wants the U.K. to leave the EU at the end of October - do or die - and that he doesn't want to ask the EU for a delay if no deal is reached. Now, of course, what you have is this tension with the prime minister wanting to leave and prepared to call for an election to unlock the deadlock in Parliament versus the opposition who wants an election but not before government has committed to a delay. So it really is complicated.

KING: It is complicated, and now other countries are getting involved. This morning, the prime minister of Finland, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said there will be no new negotiations over Britain's exit agreement. So if the EU is not going to negotiate and the U.K. is not going to accept the current agreement, is the only option that the - that Britain crashes out of the European Union?

WRIGHT: Well, certainly the odds of crashing out have risen quite dramatically over the past couple of months. But we know that the only way to avoid a crash out is either to pass a deal or to stop the process altogether. Now, we know that a majority of MPs in Parliament wants the government to ask for a delay. And they said, look, if you're serious about reaching a deal, then we need more time. But, of course, the prime minister is committed to leaving at the end of October. So there really is that tension.

So what can the prime minister do? Well, I think there are four ways to really get the election that he really wants. The first is we know that the government, on Monday, are going to put forward another vote on whether or not to hold an election. But it's pretty certain at this point that two-thirds of MPs, which is what is required to have an early election, won't support it. He won't get that two-thirds majority.

KING: OK.

WRIGHT: The other thing he could do is try and find some parliamentary loophole and to get around the election rules - again, very tricky. He could put a confidence vote in himself - that's another option. I mean, it would be - it would be strange, but, you know, everything is possible in this Brexit debate. Or he could resign. And all of those four might lead to an early election which would then for him and sort of, you know, kind of ensure that the U.K. does leave at the end of October.

KING: Wow. Just a lot going on here. Let me ask you from 3,000 feet about the Conservative Party because this is the party of Winston Churchill. It's the party of Margaret Thatcher. And now it is the party of Boris Johnson. What does its future look like?

WRIGHT: I mean, that's an excellent question. It's obviously a really big moment for the Conservative Party. We know that the prime minister has lost his majority in Parliament, so he went from one to minus 43. Obviously the prime minister was very clear that this vote this week was an important one and that those who rebelled would be sanctioned. And so to a certain extent, it wasn't a shock.

But critics have been saying look, the Conservative Party is leading its board church (ph) appeal, what does this mean if it can't have a diversity of views? I think it's too early to say really how this works. Will these rebel MPs be welcomed back into the party at some point down the line? Possibly. Will they not? And then how do the electorate react if they were to have - you know, if we are to have an election before the end of the year? I think it's too early to say but certainly a very big moment for Conservative Party.

KING: The country's so split over Brexit that some people in Britain have said this cannot be resolved through a democratic process. What do you think about that?

WRIGHT: Well, that's also, you know, the sort of the big question around Brexit. This is a legal process. It's a technical process, but it's also a highly political and emotive process. And I think the challenge for government is the one that was the challenge all along, which is, how do you find a deal that's acceptable to the EU and also to assist a sufficient number of parliamentarians here in the U.K.? We don't know. We'll have to see.

KING: Georgina Wright is a senior researcher at the Institute for Government in London.

Thanks so much.

WRIGHT: Thank you. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.