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United Kingdom Waiting To See If Prime Minister May Will Keep Her Job


The U.K. is waiting to see if Prime Minister Theresa May is going to keep her job or whether enough members of Parliament from her own Conservative Party want to trigger a vote of no confidence, a move that could force a leadership election just as May is trying to push her much-criticized Brexit agreement through Parliament.

NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London. And, Frank, at this point, what are the chances that Theresa May stays in power?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's very hard to say. She's under tremendous amount of pressure. And what would have to happen is 48 members of Parliament in May's Conservative Party would have to write letters calling for a vote of no confidence. Now, some of these letters, Audie, have already been filed months ago 'cause she's been in trouble for quite some time. And everybody's watching this very closely. If it reaches 48, we could have a no-confidence vote in days. And of course if she were to lose that vote, Audie, it would trigger a leadership contest in the party, a new prime minister, which would sort of throw all of this Brexit stuff into flux, more flux than it's already in.

CORNISH: Right. I mean, if she won, would she get to press on with her Brexit deal?

LANGFITT: She - well, if she won - it's very interesting. If she wins, she can stay in office for another 12 months. But that doesn't mean she's going to get a Brexit deal very easily because as we heard yesterday in the House of Commons, there's a ton of opposition to it.

CORNISH: Why are so many people angry about this withdrawal agreement?

LANGFITT: Well, I mean, simply put, the critics feel that this actually ties the U.K. to the European Union customs area indefinitely with no way for the United Kingdom to unilaterally leave. And the reason, of course, that they're doing this is they want to avoid building customs posts on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Irish Republic, which is part of the European Union. But many in May's own party see it as something of a betrayal of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

CORNISH: You know, we've been hearing that this is the most turbulent period in British politics since the '50s.


CORNISH: How are ordinary people responding to the political chaos?

LANGFITT: You know, Audie, there's a lot of frustration if you go out there and talk to people. And I think people can't believe that after more than two years since the Brexit vote, the government still doesn't seem to have a politically viable divorce agreement with the EU. There's a lot of fear that the U.K. could crash out of the EU, which could cause a lot of economic damage here. This afternoon, I was speaking with a guy named Christopher Desloges. He's 21. He's a student of politics and international relations at the University of Westminster. And this is what he said.

CHRISTOPHER DESLOGES: I think everything's a bit of a joke. I don't really think we should have left in the first place. And quite frankly, I think Theresa May is on our way out pretty soon as well.

CORNISH: Is the problem actually Theresa May - right? - as a politician? Could someone else have pulled this off?

LANGFITT: You know, that's a really good question. And certainly a lot of political analysts you talk to say this was going to be difficult for anybody. I was just speaking to analysts earlier today who said it would be tough for anybody. And talking to Christopher Desloges, I asked him. And he said he just doesn't have a lot of faith in most politicians, including the opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. This is how Christopher put it.

DESLOGES: I don't like Corbyn. I think he is just in complete shambles. Theresa May - I also think she's in complete shambles. I think our whole government is just absolutely crazy at the moment. Quite frankly, I'm not proud to be a citizen of a confused state.

CORNISH: Frank, at the end of the day, was this ever going to be as easy as the Brexit folks promised it would be - right? - during their campaign back in 2016?

LANGFITT: No, not at all. And one of the things that people are saying now is that the United Kingdom politicians here overestimated how much power the U.K. actually had over the EU. The European Union is many times larger as an economy than the United Kingdom, and they really seem to have gotten that wrong, thinking they could really get their way. And now what they're finding is they may have to pay for it perhaps even with not having a deal and leaving the EU empty-handed.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Audie. 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.