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Britain's Parliament Finally Agrees On A Way Forward On Brexit


After weeks of stalemate and chaos, Britain's Parliament has finally agreed on a way forward on Brexit.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Three ayes to the right - 317. The noes to the left - 301. So the ayes have it. The ayes have it.

SHAPIRO: Today, lawmakers in London voted for an amendment that would send Prime Minister Theresa May back to the European Union to ask Brussels to renegotiate a deal that she had already signed off on, the very deal lawmakers rejected in an historic defeat for the prime minister a couple weeks ago. To find out what today's vote means, we have NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt on the line from the British Parliament in London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. How are you doing?

SHAPIRO: This is a big turnaround from...

LANGFITT: (Laughter) It is.

SHAPIRO: ...When we were talking to you about the prime minister's defeat. What does it mean?

LANGFITT: Well, it's interesting. She was the happiest I've seen her (laughter) in the House of Commons in a long time. And what it means is she now has some path forward. You know, all along, she kept complaining that Parliament would say what it didn't want, and now she has something - some idea of what they support. And this is what she had to say in victory today.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU with a deal.


MAY: We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to withdrawal agreement.

SHAPIRO: OK, a deal requires two sides. So what does she do next?

LANGFITT: She's got to go back to Brussels, and specifically what she's going to ask about is concessions on what's of course been the biggest sticking point, the future the Irish border. We've talked about this a lot. And the big problem is to figure out a way that the United Kingdom can break away from the EU - their economies have been intertwined for more than four decades - and not create the need for a hard border amid customs posts on the island of Ireland. Now, May's current Brexit deal had avoided that by keeping the U.K. in a customs arrangement with the EU until they can sign a - sort this out. But May and many MPs are really afraid that they're going to be trapped in this for years and still be stuck under the thumb of the EU.

SHAPIRO: EU leaders have said repeatedly that...

LANGFITT: Yeah (laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...They gave their final offer; they're not open to renegotiating. So how did they respond to today's vote?

LANGFITT: Well, they said the same thing they always said, Ari. The European Council president - his spokesman, the spokesman for Donald Tusk - he said this isn't up for renegotiation. The Irish government said the same thing after the vote. May admitted that people at the EU - they don't have much - has little appetite for this deal, like, going back and reopening the deal.

And there was also a lot of skepticism even in Parliament. You know, there was one MP - said that continuing to go back to the EU when they've said no was sort of the definition of insanity. And Brexiteers have talked about ways around this. One of things they've talked about is using technology to avoid a hard border. And there's a member of Parliament here named Caroline Lucas. She's with the Green Party. And she said the prime minister was being completely unrealistic about the solutions, and the idea that she would get any different reaction from Brussels - this is what Caroline Lucas said.


CAROLINE LUCAS: Will she not recognize that what she is chasing here are heated-up fantasies that have already been rejected by the EU, and they depend on technologies that don't exist?

SHAPIRO: Heated-up fantasies - all right, well...

LANGFITT: Yes (laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...Frank, there were some other amendments related to Brexit that Parliament voted on today. Tell us about them.

LANGFITT: Yeah. Most of them were designed to kind of actually take control of this process from the prime minister. And the prime minister's had a terrible run, actually won most of them except one. And this is a very important one. And it says the U.K. Parliament would reject the U.K. leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement, some kind of deal. And the point of this is to block what's called a no-deal Brexit that could do a lot of economic damage to this country. And so what's interesting is if May can't get a deal from the EU, she can't get one through Parliament, it's clear there's a majority here - do not want this country just, you know, walking away from the EU and really hurting the economy and affecting people's jobs.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking with us from Parliament in London. Thank you, Frank.

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

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Frank Langfitt
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as the war in Ukraine and its implications in Europe. Langfitt has reported from more than fifty countries and territories around the globe.