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Parliament Deals Setback For Boris Johnson's Brexit Deal

British parliamentarians voted today on whether to ratify Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to leave the European Union.

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Transcript:

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to go to another of the week's big stories - Brexit. It looked as though Prime Minister Boris Johnson was poised to pass his Brexit withdrawal agreement and pave the way for the United Kingdom finally to leave the European Union after more than three years. But today, skeptical British lawmakers foiled his plans again and have triggered yet another political stalemate. For more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, Here we are again.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Here we are again.

MARTIN: So how did Johnson's plans fall apart?

LANGFITT: Well, his plan, as you were saying, was to try to get his Brexit withdrawal agreement through Parliament, but the House of Commons had something else in mind. They passed an amendment. And basically what this amendment said is they wouldn't approve it until all the related legislation around this Brexit deal was passed.

And their fear was that something between now and the end of October, which is the Brexit deadline, would go wrong and that, in fact, there was the threat of a no-deal Brexit. So the possibility that the U.K. would crash out of the EU with no deal at all, which most people think, most economists say would certainly do damage to the economy here. And there would also almost certainly be a lot of political damage as well.

MARTIN: So how did Johnson respond on what was supposed to be his big day?

LANGFITT: Well, he really - I think he was really looking - he got this great deal from his perspective out of Brussels last week. And he thought today would be triumphant. And - but when he was confronted with this, he said he wouldn't write a letter asking for an extension, which is what is required by law, which the Parliament passed earlier. And this is how he put it in the House of Commons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so. I will tell...

LANGFITT: Now, what's really interesting is, late this evening here in London, he apparently is prepared to send an unsigned note drafted by Parliament asking for a delay from the EU. But, of course, his signature won't be on it. And he's also sending another note signed that says he doesn't want a delay. So it's very confusing. But what we expect is the prime minister will try to come back on Monday or Tuesday and get his withdrawal deal through Parliament.

MARTIN: That is very confusing.

LANGFITT: I mean, it's astonishing. But, you know, we've been covering this, we've been talking about this for a long time. In some ways, it's consistent with sort of the craziness of the Brexit legislative process.

MARTIN: Any idea how Parliament is going to respond to this?

LANGFITT: I don't. Well, we heard earlier because he - in Parliament, when he did refuse to do it, people in the House of Commons said this was unacceptable. This is Ian Blackford. He's the leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons. And this was the warning that he had for the prime minister.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IAN BLACKFORD: ...And any failure of a prime minister who thinks he's above the law, well, Prime Minister, you'll find yourself in court.

LANGFITT: And when these letters - news that these letters were going out this evening, British lawmakers - one of them in particular, Joanna Cherry - she's also with the Scottish National Party - she said, this is pathetic. And, in fact, Cherry had anticipated Johnson might try to pull something like this, so she had already made arrangements to take him to court in Scottish court. And she said on Monday she'll be back in court asking the court to compel him to send a real letter asking for a delay.

MARTIN: So, Frank, we only have about 30 seconds left. As you said, very confusing - any sense of what we should take away from all of this?

LANGFITT: I think what you're seeing here, Michel, is an incredibly polarized country. You're seeing great distrust in the prime minister, Boris Johnson, largely because he suspended Parliament last month in an attempt to try to block them from scrutinizing him. And you're also seeing a breaking of democratic norms. And I think for listeners here in the United States or there in the United States, this will have a familiar ring.

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

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