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What's Next For Brexit?


We're going to turn now to the United Kingdom, where there's soon to be an important decision on Brexit. On Tuesday, the British Parliament will vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement that has been painstakingly negotiated over many months by Prime Minister Theresa May. If lawmakers vote no - which has been widely predicted - Prime Minister May's future looks uncertain, as does the Brexit deal. Anand Menon is a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London, and he's here now to help us understand why this process has been such chaos.

Professor Menon, thanks so much for joining us.

ANAND MENON: My pleasure to be with you.

MARTIN: And I should mention he's with us via Skype. So, first, what are the chances that this withdrawal agreement will pass?

MENON: Incredibly slim, I have to say. I've never known a time like this where government sources are already arguing that a defeat that isn't too big will be a victory. That is to say that they're laying the groundwork to continue after being defeated in Parliament because I think even the government whips don't really see a way in which this deal gets through.

MARTIN: So tell us what happens if this agreement doesn't pass. It sounds to me like what you're saying is that there are so many different scenarios for that going forward. And so what happens? Does the prime minister go back to the EU and try to renegotiate the deal? Is that possible?

MENON: Well, I think the first stage is we need to see what the actual vote is because, like in any political system, what's happening at the moment is people are playing the spin game. That is to say, expectations are being set as to how much the prime minister will lose by. Now, if she loses by far more than we're expecting her to lose by, her situation becomes very difficult, and it's even conceivable that she'll either step down or be forced out. If she loses sort of in the range, as it were, that people were predicting or does slightly better than people were predicting - in that case, I think yes.

She's already scheduled to go to a major European summit that's taking place in Brussels on Thursday or Friday. And when she's there, I think she'll say to her colleagues, look, I need some concessions, otherwise this deal won't get through. And you and I both do not want a no-deal Brexit.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to understand how they meet this deadline. I mean, how - if it's taken this many months to arrive at a deal, how do they envision they're going to arrive at a better deal with this very short time frame? Or maybe that's just human nature, right? Unless you're faced with an absolute deadline, people can't bring themselves to actually make the hard decisions.

MENON: Well, there's one legally binding deadline at the moment, and that's March the 29. And, under British law or under EU law, Britain ceases to be a member of the European Union on the 29th of March. So, in theory, we need to have a deal not only agreed but ratified by our Parliament and the EU before then. Bear in mind, however, that if all the EU member states agreed to it, we can extend that deadline.

At the moment, I think the most likely thing is that Mrs. May goes to Brussels, she gets relatively cosmetic changes. And, on the back of those, I suspect, she'll go back to Parliament and say, look. Not only have I tried to address your concerns with these changes, but also, you need to bear in mind that in the event you don't vote for this deal, you're left with a choice, and that choice is either crashing out of the EU with no deal, which will be really damaging for the country, or the prospect of having to go through another referendum if those in Parliament who favor that cause manage to secure a majority.

MARTIN: So it sounds from our end like a big mess. (Laughter) Does it feel like a big mess where you are?

MENON: Yes. I think one of the things that's absolutely crucial to bear in mind is Brexit is very difficult. It's bamboozling our political class. They don't know how to deal with it. And the crucial thing about Brexit is the dividing lines of Brexit are not the normal dividing lines of politics. It's not left versus right.

What Brexit has done, if you like, is mobilize a social values division in Britain between social authoritarians and social conservatives. It's culture, this is. And so the divisions exist at the heart of our parties. Labour are divided, and the Conservatives are divided. And so this is proving a really hard issue for our political class to deal with, if they will at all.

MARTIN: That's Anand Menon. He is a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London. He's the co-author of "Brexit And British Politics." We reached him via Skype.

Professor Menon, thank you so much for talking with us.

MENON: Absolute pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.