Britain's Boris Johnson Hasn't Given Up On Being Granted A Snap Election

Sep 9, 2019
Originally published on September 9, 2019 9:55 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is yet another big day in Brexit land. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Dublin, Ireland, to talk about what could be the biggest consequence of a so-called hard Brexit, and that is what might happen on the Irish border. Johnson is also expected to push Parliament to hold a snap election. Let's talk all this through with NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right. Well, let's start with Ireland. I mean, this is kind of the nightmare Brexit scenario for some - that a hard border with Ireland could bring back old tensions. It could slow trade on what's now this seamless border. Is there a chance of some kind of breakthrough here?

LANGFITT: I don't think today. That's not very likely. Johnson says he wants to get some kind of deal. But if you talk to people in Brussels, over at the European Union, they say nothing's been moving. And speaking with Johnson today, just ahead of their talks in Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, he made it very clear that negotiations have a long way to go. This is how he put it, David.

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PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKAR: We must protect the peace and also the burgeoning all-island economy. We are open to alternatives, but they must be realistic ones - legally binding and workable. And we haven't received such proposals to date.

LANGFITT: And, you know, David, the current solution is for the United Kingdom to stay in a close customs arrangement with the EU until they come up with something that's going to work to avoid these very things that you mentioned. Johnson, though, rejects that because it would keep the U.K tied to the EU potentially for many, many years. But as Varadkar just says, Johnson hasn't offered any solutions, and the time of course is ticking down. Still, here in the United Kingdom, it's scheduled to leave the European Union at the end of October.

GREENE: All right, so one thing the prime minister is offering is his idea for Parliament to approve a snap election. But he would need votes in Parliament for that idea, right?

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Yes, he would.

GREENE: Does Johnson have them?

LANGFITT: No, he doesn't at all. He needs a two-thirds majority, and he's going to - we think he's going to ask tonight for it. But the opposition parties are opposing him. Now, officially, they say we don't trust Boris Johnson. We think we're going to give him an election, and then he's going to trick us and crash the U.K. out of the EU anyway.

Many, though, think the real reason behind this is the opposition Labour Party is trailing Johnson's Conservatives in the polls, and if there were an election next month, as Johnson wants, Labour would lose. And a big reason for this is, even as the Conservatives have basically had a disastrous time the last three years with Brexit, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is even more unpopular than Johnson. And the reason for that is he is a socialist, and many people feel here that he would actually damage the U.K. economy. And so the problem that Labour has is the person at the top of their ticket is just not - he's very polarizing, and he's not that popular.

GREENE: I always feel like, on moments like this, I'm making you, like, do a lightning round. I mean, there's so much to ask you about.

LANGFITT: There is a lot, yeah.

GREENE: We also have this other thing. Yes. The queen is expected to approve this new law today - right? - that would block the prime minister from taking the U.K. out of the EU at the end of October - that deadline that you mentioned - without some sort of agreement because the fear is that kind of withdrawal would damage the U.K. economy. Johnson says he might not abide by this law. So what is happening here?

LANGFITT: (Laughter) He does. This was - in an exchange with a reporter on Friday, this is what the prime minister said.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you make a promise today to the British public that you will not go back to Brussels and ask for another delay to Brexit?

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And - sorry?

JOHNSON: I can.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And would you rather...

JOHNSON: I'd rather be dead in a ditch.

GREENE: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: That's pretty clear.

LANGFITT: Yeah.

GREENE: So how would Parliament respond if Johnson does defy them and ignore this law?

LANGFITT: Well, I think they take him to court. We could see this all heading to the Supreme Court here in the United Kingdom sooner than later.

GREENE: And then Johnson's supposed to suspend Parliament this week as well.

LANGFITT: He is. It should be - could do as early as today, after he fails in - what's expected to fail in this vote. Or as late as Thursday, and then Parliament wouldn't come back until the middle of October.

GREENE: Life in Brexit land, with NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thank you as always for helping us understand this.

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