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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Will Suspend Parliament Early In September


Reading online news headlines from the United Kingdom today, you'll see a divide over what Prime Minister Boris Johnson's call to suspend Parliament means.


From The Sun - "The Queen Agrees To Let Boris Johnson Shut Down Parliament And Thwart Corbyn's Anti-Brexit Plot."

CHANG: In Edinburgh, The Scotsman had this - "Brexit: Queen Approves Boris Johnson Plan To Suspend Parliament."

KELLY: Over in Northern Ireland, the unionist Belfast Telegraph led with "Queen Approves Suspension Of Parliament Setting Boris Johnson On Collision Course Over No-Deal Brexit," while the Derry Journal pictured Boris Johnson and Sinn Fein member of Parliament Elisha McCallion with the headline "Protecting The Interests Of Ireland Is Paramount."

CHANG: And if you're tired of the whole long, drawn-out Brexit epic, there's the Birmingham Post's top headline.

KELLY: Which reads "Watch Shocking McDonalds Brawl As Mum Puts Down Toddler To Punch Worker" (laughter).

CHANG: Meanwhile, lawmakers in the U.K. exploded with anger today over Johnson's announcement suspending Parliament. This action will limit time for his many opponents to try to prevent him from crashing the U.K. out of the European Union at the end of October with no deal. Opposition lawmakers in Britain called the move anti-democratic and even a coup. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London and joins us now.

Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa, how are you doing?

CHANG: (Laughter) Good. All right, so just leaving aside the fast-food brawl, who's got it right here?

LANGFITT: Well, one thing I heard that you said that's absolutely true is a collision course. And what you do see, though, and right in the headlines, is that both sides are saying the other's anti-democratic. So people who are supporting Boris Johnson are saying all he's doing is defending the 2016 Brexit referendum and making sure the country leaves. And they say that his opponents are just trying to thwart democracy. Then, others are saying that what Johnson is doing - particularly political analysts here - they've never seen a prime minister do before, and they see this very much as anti-democratic.

CHANG: Can Parliament actually stop a no-deal Brexit at this point?

LANGFITT: It's not that easy, and they're going to have to move pretty quickly. They've got a couple of options. One is to seize the legislative agenda next week and pass a law delaying Brexit. Of course, that would be the third time they've delayed Brexit, so it would not be very popular. Option B is to get a vote of no confidence and bring down the Johnson government. That's not easy either because even members of Johnson's Conservative Party would think twice about it because they could hand power over to Jeremy Corbyn who is very unpopular certainly among many Conservative voters as well as even some members of his own party in the legislature.

CHANG: Given all these potential moving parts, what seems to be Johnson's strategy?

LANGFITT: The suspicion is that he's trying to sideline Parliament and drive the country out of the EU with no deal. Now, if Parliament can block him, he could then call a general election and run against Parliament in saying they're anti-democratic. Give me a majority. I'm going to get it done here. There's another option that people are not so sure he'd be able to succeed at doing, and that is to return to the EU and get small changes to this withdrawal agreement that kept failing last year when Prime Minister May was pushing it through and frighten Parliament into passing that. But that seems really unlikely because the EU hasn't budged in three years. Why would they blink now? But we're going to have to watch this play out over the next few weeks, and none of it is predictable.

CHANG: Just to zoom out, remind us what is at stake here.

LANGFITT: Well, I mean, honestly Ailsa, it's the future of the U.K. I mean, this is the biggest decision made in this country in decades. The political turmoil - most people would say we haven't seen this in this country since the end of World War II. At a more micro level, it's - does the U.K. leave the EU in an orderly manner? Or does it crash out? - which will damage the EU economy but the U.K.'s a lot more. The other thing is if the U.K. crashes out, it could force the building of a hard border on the island of Ireland. That could actually foment violence. So the stakes are very, very high.

I mean, a lot of people right now today are saying the big question is even the future of British democracy. Boris Johnson could try to push the U.K. out of the EU with no deal. The majority of Parliament is against that. I think most people here in the United Kingdom are against that, and yet this could happen. And if that does happen, a question will be, you know, to what degree does this system really work?

CHANG: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt.

Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ailsa. 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.
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