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As Friday's Deadline Draws Near, U.K. Looks For Another Brexit Delay


Brexit is a total mess still. Politicians in the United Kingdom still can't agree on a way to leave the EU, which is why Prime Minister Theresa May is heading to Brussels today to ask the EU for another extension before the clock runs out on Friday. In recent days, she's been in Berlin and Paris seeking the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. Now, for more, we turn to NPR's Mr. Brexit, Frank Langfitt in London. Hi there, Frank.


GREENE: OK. So Friday is the big day that Britain could crash out with no plan at all. So is the prime minister basically just saying she needs more time?

LANGFITT: She does need more time. She's going to ask - she's asking for an extension to June 30. And what she needs is exactly what you're talking about, David - time to find some consensus on leaving the EU. She's under a lot of pressure from Brexiteers here to get out as soon as possible. She wants to do it before she would have to seat U.K. members in the European Parliament. The new Parliament opens in early July. So she's looking for a short window to try to do something that the British Parliament and the prime minister have failed to do now for, like, upwards of two years.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean - and all those failures to get any sort of agreement, I mean, has to have EU leaders feeling very impatient. What - how are they going to react?

LANGFITT: They're exasperated, but we do expect there'll be some kind of extension. And the reason for that is just what you were pointing out earlier, David. It's in nobody's interest that the United Kingdom just walk away from the European Union without any way to sort out how things would work at the ports and things like that. You'd have tariffs, big lines of trucks, things along those lines. One thing the EU, of course, wants to hear is what's the plan? How are they going to break this deadlock in Parliament? Donald Tusk - he's the president of the European Council - he is suggesting a long extension, talking about up to a year. And the reason for this, one, is I think they're tired of the U.K. continuing to blow through deadlines and, frankly, dominating the EU agenda.

And any extension, David, is going to have to have conditions. And one is going to be the U.K. not disrupting the EU if it remains inside for many, many months longer. There is a concern in Brussels that when Prime Minister May leaves office, whenever that is, there could be a Brexiteer prime minister who comes in here and the U.K. could actually become a Trojan horse inside the EU and be disruptive.

GREENE: How are people in Britain feeling at this moment? I mean, this Brexit has divided society. It's paralyzed politics. Like, could people tolerate another delay and uncertainty for, like, up to another year?

LANGFITT: I think it's - there's a lot of different feelings, and I don't think people have felt like this in Britain in decades. There's bitterness. There's distrust. There's complete Brexit fatigue. A lot of people just say get it over with, which is a very British approach to things. Even if something isn't going to work out all that well, it's, you know...

GREENE: Just do it.

LANGFITT: It is. It's a stiff upper lip. It's a bit of a cliche, but it's true. Remainers, they want a second vote. They feel that Brexiteers presented a way too rosy picture of all of this and lied about what was going to happen. Obviously, it's turned into chaos. Brexiteers fear that Brexit is going to actually be cancelled and that this whole vote from 2016 is going to be stolen from voters. They also - you know, you were just talking about earlier the prime minister going to see Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Merkel. They feel that the U.K. is a supplicant, and they feel that this is kind of nationally humiliating; so a lot of very mixed feelings right now, a lot of divisions.

GREENE: And what about the view in Europe, across Europe?

LANGFITT: Well, many, I think, in Europe are baffled and stunned by this. I was in Copenhagen over the weekend. And I was talking to a friend who just was stunned by the bitterness and anger and chaos in Parliament, which many in Europe have admired for a long time. Another person I talked to in Denmark, she pointed out that the U.K. is Denmark's closest ally. And she just feels very sad about all this. One thing interesting, David, is the chaos is such that it's actually bound people closer to the EU. It has higher ratings now than it did a number of years ago. And that's because Brexit has gone so badly so far.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt, the latest on Brexit in London.

Frank, thanks.

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