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Deal, No Deal Or Delay? Crucial Brexit Votes Ahead Of March Deadline


We're going to start the program in London today, where, after months of uncertainty, this week will finally bring a moment of truth for Brexit. The British Parliament is set to decide whether to back Prime Minister Theresa May's much-maligned Brexit deal or whether to leave the European Union with no deal or whether to put the whole thing off. Any one of these outcomes could have significant implications for the future of the European Union. We're going to turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt for more. He's in London. Frank, thank you so much for being here.


MARTIN: So walk us through this week's votes and what we might expect.

LANGFITT: Yeah, sure. So it kicks off on Tuesday. We're going to have a vote on the prime minister's deal. It's expected to fail not by the 230 votes it failed by, which is a historic margin, back in January but still expected to fail pretty easily. And the reason is this - May has not been able to convince Brussels to reopen this withdrawal agreement that she'd been negotiating last year with the EU to ensure that the U.K. won't become trapped in a long-term customs arrangement. Now, the whole point of that was, as we've said many times before, to avoid a customs post on the Irish border.

Now, you've heard phrases, we've talked about this. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit. This is what detractors call a Hotel California Brexit, meaning you can check out any time you like, but you can't leave. And they want to be able to get out of the EU - strike new trade deals. Now, tomorrow, there could be some last-minute movement from the EU, but it's not expected to change the math in Parliament.

MARTIN: So if Prime Minister May's deal goes down in flames, then what?

LANGFITT: Well, there would be a vote on Wednesday on whether to walk away with no deal at all. That's expected to fail as well because it would cause a lot of damage to businesses. I mean, right now, products trade seamlessly between the U.K. and the EU when they pass, you know, across the water. And in a no-deal scenario, some of those products could suddenly face tariffs, inspections, at ports and airports - could cause a lot disruption and actually cost businesses a lot of money.

Now, I've been traveling around the country over the past few weeks, talking to everybody from flower sellers to logistics companies. And they're really appalled that politicians here have allowed Brexit to drag on like this with no certainty and just really less than three weeks until the exit day.

Now, I was talking to an auto industry analyst in Wales last week. His name's Peter Wells. He's at Cardiff University, and this is how he put it.

PETER WELLS: We're at this point, and we still don't know. And that is astonishing to me. I don't know if it's incompetence, if it's intransigence from the European Union. Whatever the cause, it's having an extremely debilitating effect on this industry, the automotive industry and plenty of others.

MARTIN: OK. If Parliament can't agree on a deal but is against leaving without one, what option does that leave?

LANGFITT: Well, and this is - the problem is that these are all the options that Parliament doesn't like. The last thing is to vote maybe Wednesday, probably Thursday, on a delay, which will drive people here, the public crazy because they are very frustrated with this process. So after more than 2 1/2 years after the Brexit referendum, more than two years of negotiations with the EU, this is actually the one vote, Michel, that's likely to pass.

MARTIN: And if Britain does vote to put this off, where would that lead? And what would the European Union have to say about that?

LANGFITT: Well, the EU is expected to actually agree to that because I don't think it sees much choice. And it also doesn't want a no-deal Brexit. It doesn't want disruption. It - you know? Mercedes sells cars into the U.K. It doesn't want to see tariffs suddenly popping up on the 29 of March. But it would take all 27 remaining EU countries to pass it, and they are exasperated with the British government. They've been very frustrated with this process. And what Brussels would want I think is a clear explanation of how giving the U.K. extra time would actually help the United Kingdom solve this issue, which has paralyzed British politics now for, you know, a better part of a year.

MARTIN: So, Frank, you've been covering this issue since before the referendum in 2016. What has been the impact on politics, especially, local politics, since then?

LANGFITT: If you look at polls, people are incredibly frustrated with Brexit. They want the United Kingdom to get on with it. When you try to interview people on this topic, they get really frustrated and angry. It is also - it has split both parties. Labour and the Conservative Party are split. Regardless of your opinion on Brexit, most people here think that this is a train wreck.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Michel. 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.