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British Parliament Agrees To Ask European Union For An Extension In Brexit Process


The U.K. Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to delay Brexit beyond the country's planned exit date of March 29.


JOHN BERCOW: The ayes to the right - 412; the noes of the left - 202. So the ayes have it. The ayes have it.

CORNISH: For more on how this played out and what's next in this, the biggest challenge the U.K. has faced in decades, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt. And Frank, you were in Parliament tonight. After two years of negotiations to leave the EU, what ultimately drove this decision to delay?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, you know, Audie, they didn't have any other choice. It had already been voted down. The - Prime Minister May's Brexit deal had been voted down twice before. Yesterday, they voted against leaving with no deal because of the economic damage that would do to this country. And frankly, it was time to punt. And what they're going to do - she's going to do is ask the European Union to grant the U.K. a delay in leaving.

CORNISH: I understand that Prime Minister Theresa May has lost her voice physically so she didn't have much...


CORNISH: ...To say afterwards.

LANGFITT: No, she didn't speak at all.

CORNISH: But she wants to bring her Brexit deal back to Parliament - right? - even though she lost previous votes by such huge margins. So like...

LANGFITT: She does.

CORNISH: ...How does she think she's going to do that?

LANGFITT: Well, this is the question that most people are asking right now 'cause usually people after, you know, two big defeat like this, they would quit. And since she couldn't speak, what she did say in her motion today is - to the Parliament - if you pass it, I'll go to the EU next week. And I'll ask for a short delay to maybe June - well, to June 30. If not, though, it could be a much longer delay.

And what she was doing there basically is holding a gun to the heads of Brexiteers, saying, you know, if you don't vote for my deal - and I know you hate it - this could really get dragged out, and maybe Brexit will never happen. Now, tonight just after the vote, I talked to Stephen Crabb. He's a member of Parliament in the Conservative Party, May's party. He's from Wales. He supports her Brexit deal, and this is the way that he put it.

STEPHEN CRABB: More and more of my really strong, strong Brexit-supporting colleagues realize that they risk losing the whole of the Brexit project altogether if they carry on voting against a compromise package.

CORNISH: Does this Stephen Crabb think that the strategy will work?

LANGFITT: Well, he says there has been movement this week. And she's going to do more and more in the coming days - I'm sure over the weekend and early next week - to try to get as many people over to her side. But I asked Crabb that. And he said he's still pessimistic that by the middle of next week, you know, she would have to flip, if I'm - if my math is correct, 75 votes. That's a big margin that she needs to flip in not a lot of time.

CORNISH: Let's talk about the main opposition. What did the Labour Party have to say?

LANGFITT: Well Jeremy Corbyn, did get up. He does have his voice. And he basically says, as he often does, give my party a chance for another approach to this problem. And what he's talking about is a closer relationship with the European Union, talk about a possibility of a second referendum. There's not the support now for those things, Audie, especially if there's going to be a bit of a delay. But here was Jeremy Corbyn's pitch.


JEREMY CORBYN: The deal can be agreed based on our alternative plan that can command support across the House.


CORBYN: And I also...


CORBYN: And I also reiterate our support for a public vote, not as a politic...


CORNISH: In the meantime, how will the EU react to this request to delay?

LANGFITT: Well, it is expected - and of course, it has to be all 27 remaining EU countries to agree to this. It's expected they will grant it. But they really want to see a plan on how the U.K. is going to resolve Brexit. They are very frustrated, and there's a narrow window. The new European Parliament will be taking its seats in early July. And they're certainly - the EU is going to want to get this done before then. Otherwise, there could be a very long delay. And again, some people here think that could kill Brexit.

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

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

Frank Langfitt
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.