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The Problems Facing Theresa May

22 hours ago
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A number of parliamentarians are pushing for Theresa May to resign over Brexit. British newspapers this morning are writing of a Cabinet coup. But No. 10 Downing St. says that the United Kingdom's beleaguered prime minister is going nowhere. All this comes on a weekend when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of London to demand a second Brexit referendum. For more now, we go to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Frank, yesterday this news started to trickle out. What's the latest today?

LANGFITT: Well, as you're pointing out - and this has been growing for a long time - a number of MPs, particularly senior members of her Conservative Party, want her out. There's talk possibly of the threat of Cabinet resignations to force her to leave and maybe an offer that would run like this, Lulu. In exchange for the prime minister giving a date when she would step down, maybe get enough votes to pass her Brexit plan.

Honestly though, that seems unlikely because it's so unpopular, and it's lost by such huge margins. And the bottom line, I think, is many, many MPs no longer have much faith in her leading her party or the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I mean, some people could characterize that as blackmail. How is the prime minister responding?

LANGFITT: Well, she isn't saying anything yet that I've seen, which, I think, is wise on her part. Her office at 10 Downing Street is saying she's not leaving. Philip Hammond, her chancellor of the Exchequer - that's essentially, here in the U.K., the equivalent of our treasury secretary - he went on Sky News this morning. And this was his answer to people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKY NEWS BROADCAST)

PHILIP HAMMOND: Changing the players doesn't solve the problem. The problem is that we, as a nation, have to decide how to deliver Brexit.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Frank, the prime minister has had a tumultuous premiership.

LANGFITT: (Laughter) To say the least.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To say the least.

LANGFITT: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, honestly.

LANGFITT: It's been extraordinary.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. But she has survived two no-confidence votes, right? I mean...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why is another attempt to get rid of her coming now?

LANGFITT: That's a good question. I think that, by all accounts, all - I should say almost all accounts, she's handled Brexit badly. There was a poll that just came out last week, and it's been building because she's not getting anywhere with this. I mean, she keeps kind of bringing this deal back that doesn't go anywhere. And there was an Ipsos MORI poll - this is the worst I've seen - that came out last week. Eighty-six percent of Britons are dissatisfied with her government, the way it's running the country.

But last week, I think it was a bit of a turning point. She gave this national speech where she blamed Parliament for the impasse. And she kind of played this populist card saying, you know, I'm with the people; you guys aren't doing Brexit. Lawmakers were furious, Lulu. And the other thing is time's running out. If she doesn't get her deal through soon, they have to come up with another plan by April 12 or walk away from the EU with no deal at all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, you know, while this is happening, of course, there were protesters, many of them out on the streets of London yesterday. And you were with them. What do they say they want?

LANGFITT: Well, they - they're as unhappy with this as anybody in the United Kingdom. And they say, we want a second chance to vote on Brexit. And the Brexit process - again, whether you're for it or against it, most people feel it's been pretty disastrous here. There's been this political paralysis. And a recent Sky Data poll - people were calling it a national humiliation. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) Truth shall make us free.

LANGFITT: So these are some people, Lulu, that I ran into yesterday. It was right in the shadow of Big Ben, full - you know, right in the middle of the scrum of the protest. And I talked to a guy named Tim Parsons (ph). He works in finance in London. And he said, we need a new vote because the one in 2016 was flawed. And this is what Tim had to say.

TIM PARSONS: This country's in grave danger of shooting itself in the foot. There was a vote. Nobody knew what they were voting for at the time. So I think it should be put back for another vote. At least it will have been an informed decision.

LANGFITT: Why do you think it wasn't informed?

PARSONS: Because a lot of people lied. It was probably the worst election campaign I've ever seen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's been so much controversy over that referendum. What are the chances they would hold a second one or reverse Brexit even?

LANGFITT: It's still low, even with all the numbers that came out yesterday. And we had a vote in Parliament here recently where the idea of a second referendum was easily defeated. I think part of that is because it would enrage the 52 percent who voted in 2016. Even some "remainers," people who want to stay in the EU, feel it would be anti-democratic. It would also take a lot of money, which means the government would have to get behind it. And prime minister says she's against it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what's next for the Brexit process? Where are we going?

LANGFITT: Well, I think she is going to try to see if she can get her deal through next week. She may not even hold it because the numbers are against her. And then she may have votes in Parliament on softer Brexit, a new referendum or no Brexit at all. So we'll see if she brings those votes and how it all pans out next week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That old, journalistic canard - only time will tell. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London, thank you so much.

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