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Another Brexit Showdown Kicks Off In Britain's Parliament


Parliament returns to work today after a summer break, and they return to what is sure to be a dramatic Brexit showdown. A group of lawmakers plan to block Prime Minister Boris Johnson from crashing the United Kingdom out of the European Union with no withdrawal agreement. If they succeed, Johnson has threatened to call a general election next month. It would be the third national election in Britain in a little over three years. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London for us this morning. Hi, Frank.

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

MARTIN: I mean, we've said it before, but really, this is going to be a remarkable week, isn't it?

LANGFITT: It is. It is. This is - what you're going to see, basically, is a high-stakes chess game playing out in Parliament over the future of the United Kingdom. And last week, what really kind of kicked this off is Prime Minister Johnson saying he was going to suspend Parliament - created an uproar because they felt they were going to be sidelined in terms of having a voice on Brexit.

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: Lawmakers are striking back. Now they're going to try to block Johnson from taking the U.K. out without a deal. If he can succeed, that actually ends up damaging the U.K. economy. If it goes to an election, the question - does Johnson win? If he loses, he becomes the shortest serving prime minister in British history. There's going to be a lot of political maneuvering this week, and hopefully, at the end of it, we're going to have some big questions answered.

MARTIN: So Frank, obviously, Johnson has opponents in Parliament in the opposition Labour Party, but also there are rebels in his own Conservative Party. Do they have the numbers to defeat the prime minister this week?

LANGFITT: Well, it's tight at the moment, but it does seem, particularly with the votes of these rebel members of Johnson's own Conservative Party, they probably do have the numbers. Right now Johnson has a razor-thin majority. He has no votes really to lose. And what he's done is he said to these rebels in his own party - he said, effectively, I'm going to kick you out if you defy me. And this would effectively end their careers. And right now there are estimates of at least a dozen or more opposing him, and some of these are national names in this country. So they would effectively - he would basically end their careers. Some people find this quite ruthless.

But their view, the rebels, is we're going to choose the future - what we see as the future of the country and the best interest of the country over party. Brexit is always unpredictable, Rachel, as we know, and probably should be in for a pretty dramatic vote later this week.

MARTIN: Johnson could call for a general election, really? That is - that would be extraordinary.

LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, and here's the reason why - what he would do is call for it on October 14 If he loses this battle with his - some of these members of his own party. And his strategy is this - he would try to win a bigger majority in October because he really doesn't have much to work with. He figures that gives him a freer hand on Brexit to either get a deal with Brussels, which still seems really unlikely, or just pull the U.K. out. Now, Labour leader - the Labour Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, he said yesterday he's ready to fight Johnson at the polls. This is how he put it.


JEREMY CORBYN: We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink. Then we need a general election.

MARTIN: I mean, does Boris Johnson win a general election? And is it essentially another referendum on Brexit, really?

LANGFITT: It's a little more complex than that because it's two different candidates than in the past, of course, and this isn't a referendum. But Johnson does have the edge. He's - Labour's actually eight points behind. Johnson has a clear message. Corbyn is not the strongest of candidates. He's a socialist. It'll be easy for Johnson to paint him as, you know, far left. And some in Labour actually think the election is a trap and don't think Corbyn should necessarily go into it right now.

MARTIN: Huh. Oh, my. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London, on the twists and the turns of Brexit. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "HOURGLASS") 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.