Brexit Resignations Threaten British Prime Minister's Job

22 hours ago
Originally published on November 15, 2018 8:22 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When you are prime minister of Britain, you routinely have to go before Parliament and face brutal questions. There's really no American equivalent of this. Prime Minister Theresa May has been facing many questions today after getting most of her Cabinet to back a Brexit agreement to leave the European Union. Now, we said most of her Cabinet. Two Cabinet members and some other officials have quit, and they did so shortly before May stepped before the House of Commons to explain the deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: It is a draft treaty that means that we will leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way...

(LAUGHTER)

MAY: ...On the 29 of March, 2019, and which sets the framework for a future relationship that delivers in our national interest.

INSKEEP: Leaving in a smooth and orderly way - that's an unintentional punchline, apparently. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Westminster, just outside of Parliament. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the scene there?

LANGFITT: The scene is what you would expect. There are lots of television cameras out here. You also have crowds outside of Parliament - the exit to Parliament, waiting to see MPs come out and hear what they say about, basically, the future of Theresa May and whether they think she's going to last.

INSKEEP: Well, how bad are these resignations that she now faces?

LANGFITT: They're really bad, Steve. This is the biggest threat to her premiership since she got in office a little more than two years ago. The big one that happened this morning was Dominic Raab. He's the Brexit secretary, or he was the Brexit secretary. He helped negotiate this deal. And he came out with a letter basically saying that May's Conservative Party had promised, you know, to make this big break with the European Union. And it failed to do so in this deal that he helped to work on - and said this was a matter of public trust.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember here - this is an agreement to not fully leave the European Union for the moment. It would keep Britain within...

LANGFITT: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...This unified trading zone for some time to come. So that's the criticism or one of the criticisms. How much risk does she really face?

LANGFITT: A lot, and it seems to be growing. You know, during the debate today, a member of her own party - a man named Jacob Rees-Mogg - attacked May's deal, said it doesn't deliver on her or the party's promises. And this is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACOB REES-MOGG: My Right Honourable friend said that she would maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom. A whole protocol says otherwise. As what my Right Honourable friend says and what my Right Honourable friend does no longer match, should I not write to my Right Honourable friend, the member for Altrincham and Sale West?

INSKEEP: Frank, my Right Honourable friend, would you translate please?

LANGFITT: I would be happy to. So Jacob Rees-Mogg, in the most polite British way, just threatened to call a no confidence vote on May's leadership. And what he meant was he would write a letter to this other honorable friend of him who handles such letters. Now, these letters - it takes about 48 from the Conservative members of the House of Commons to trigger a vote. And Jacob Rees-Mogg made good on this. He's already put the letter in, as he was saying. And he just came out, not too long ago, in Parliament listing the names of people he thought would make better prime ministers.

INSKEEP: OK, so what if Theresa May is thrown out of office? Or what if the full Parliament rejects this agreement that she's now bringing to Parliament - what would happen then?

LANGFITT: Well, we'd first have, if it gets to this, a vote of no confidence. And there'd be a little time before they had - maybe a couple of weeks before they did that. But the big problem is, given all of what we heard today in the House of Commons, it just doesn't sound like there's hardly any support. For the first hour, nobody supported her at all, so many people think it's going to be extremely difficult, no matter who's premier, to get something like that through. So it's looking very tough for her right now and very tough for this plan.

INSKEEP: OK, so the British have brought plans to the Europeans that they rejected. Now there's a plan the Europeans like, but there's a lot of resistance in Britain. Frank, thanks for the update.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.