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EU Leaders Agree To Delay Britain's Exit From The Group


The United Kingdom has spent 2 1/2 years arguing over Brexit, so why stop now? At the request of Prime Minister Theresa May, the European Union allowed a little more time before the U.K. leaves. If the original deadline in late March had held, Britain would have been likely to crash out of the intricate economic partnership without any deal to replace it, leading to economic chaos. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been covering this story in London. Frank, good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I have an image of some people in Britain and across Europe taking this latest news with their heads in their hands.

LANGFITT: Probably with their heads in their hands but also a little bit of relief because, as you were saying, there was a cliff-edge - as people refer to it here - on the 29. And what the EU said yesterday was, OK, if Prime Minister May can get a deal through Parliament next week, we'll give you - postpone it - we'll give you a delay till May 22. But if not, you have until April 12 to come up with a new plan or leave with no deal.

So this does feel interminable. But there is a little bit of a sense of relief that they're not going to crash up a brick - up against a brick wall at the end of next week.

INSKEEP: What is so special about that date, April 12 - the no-deal deadline now?

LANGFITT: Well, there's a lot going on in Europe. And it isn't all Brexit, although that's all I seem to talk about. And that's - we have European parliamentary elections coming up in May. April 12 is the time for countries to say, are you going to be fielding candidates for the elections? Now, what the EU's saying to the U.K. is if you're going to stay in the EU, then field candidates. Otherwise, if not, you got to come up with some new ideas or just leave with no deal. So April 12 is the next cliff-edge.

INSKEEP: We know why the U.K. asked for the extra time. Why was it in the EU's interest to give it?

LANGFITT: I think it's just pragmatism, frankly, Steve. This would be - you know, crashing out - the EU - the U.K. crashing out would be bad for both sides. They also know that Prime Minister May is probably going to have a pretty hard time next week trying to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. It's already failed twice before. And having the U.K. crashing out, it would be - you know, it's just not really in anybody's interest. So the idea here, I think, is for the EU to give at least some breathing space - not too much - to the U.K. to sort this out.

INSKEEP: Although, as you have reported, the deals that she has brought to Parliament haven't just failed. They've failed monumentally, by enormous numbers of votes. And the Europeans say they're not giving any more changes or concessions. So what does Theresa May do?

LANGFITT: Well, she is going to - she's nothing if not consistent, Steve. She's going to try at least one more time next week. And this is what she said last night.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: I hope we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision. And I will make every effort to ensure that we are able to leave with a deal and move our country forward.

INSKEEP: So she'll tell the members of Parliament - listen, now this is really, truly, honestly serious?

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Yes, this is truly the last time. That's what she'll say.

INSKEEP: And how likely are members of Parliament going to be to change their votes?

LANGFITT: Not very likely. And part of the reason is Prime Minister May herself - earlier this week, she went on national television, and she blamed Parliament for the political paralysis here in the country. And this is the same Parliament that she desperately needs support from. And she kind of cast them as villains and said, you know, I'm on the side of the people.

Well, this - not surprisingly, Steve - made lawmakers furious. This is what John Bercow, the speaker of the house - what he told the House of Commons after May's attack earlier this week.


JOHN BERCOW: None of you is a traitor. All of you are doing your best.

INSKEEP: Doing your best, OK. But one technicality here, Frank...


INSKEEP: ...Didn't Bercow himself say, listen, Theresa May, you can't keep bringing back the same deal and vote on it again and again and again and again until you get the results you want? Have they figured out a way to even do this again?

LANGFITT: I'm not sure they have, and that's a really good question. I think she'll bring it up next week. And what she's hoping for is she can get enough MPs to vote on a motion to persuade Bercow to allow another vote. We'll see how that goes. But it's - you know, it's very, very fraught. It's very unpredictable. We don't think it's going to work out very well. And what the EU's suggesting is maybe they should cancel Brexit or accept a long extension.

INSKEEP: OK, Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. 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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