Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Prime Minister Boris Johnson Expected To Suspend British Parliament


For the second time in a week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Parliament to back a snap election in October to break the country's Brexit deadlock.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: If you really want to delay Brexit beyond October the 31st, which is what you seem to want to do, then vote for an election and let the people decide. Let the people decide.

KELLY: But for the second time in a week, Parliament refused. As promised, Johnson then promptly suspended Parliament for five weeks, sidelining lawmakers as the Brexit clock continues to tick down to the Halloween deadline. For more, we go to the sleep-deprived Frank Langfitt in London.

Hey Frank.


KELLY: All right. So Parliament is not happy with Boris Johnson, including members of his own party not happy with him. Why would they balk at a chance to topple him?

LANGFITT: It's a great question. You know, Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader - he said he's not going to back an election until he's certain that Johnson won't crash the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a withdrawal agreement. Of course, we've been referring to this over and over as a no-deal Brexit.

KELLY: Right.

LANGFITT: Economists say it would really damage the United Kingdom. And this is how Corbyn put it tonight.


JEREMY CORBYN: We're eager for an election. But as keen as we are, we are not prepared to risk inflicting the disaster of no deal on us, our communities, our jobs, our services.

LANGFITT: Now, Mary Louise, I should jump in here and say that Johnson has another theory as to why Corbyn won't do this. Labour is actually well behind in the polls right now. He thinks Corbyn is afraid that if there's an election next month, Labour will lose it.

KELLY: All right, so I'm trying to keep up with all this. And the other thing that is in play here is Parliament passed a law last week that requires Boris Johnson...


KELLY: ...Either to get some kind of new Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU or go back and ask to delay Brexit again. Now, Johnson, tonight, said he will never ask for a delay. He said no can do, so how does this work? Is he threatening to violate the law that Parliament just passed?

LANGFITT: It certainly seems that way, and that's where a lot of people in Parliament see it like that. They - many were angry tonight with the prime minister. Ian Blackford - he leads the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons. He warned Johnson about flouting the rule of Parliament. This is what he said.


IAN BLACKFORD: Be careful. You occupy the highest office in the land. And what you're demonstrating to the people of the United Kingdom is that the law doesn't matter.

LANGFITT: Now, I should just mention one thing. Johnson's allies in the Conservative Party say he will follow the law, but it looks like they may already be looking for some loopholes. In the meantime, the opposition parties - they're already working on a legal case to take the prime minister to the Supreme Court if they have to.

KELLY: All right. And meantime, this may be, as we mentioned, the last time we hear from Parliament in a while because they have...


KELLY: ...Just been suspended. Remind us why Boris Johnson thinks that is a good idea with Brexit so close.

LANGFITT: Well, most people think the original strategy was to halt Parliament from blocking him from taking the country out on a no-deal Brexit, but that strategy failed. As you were just mentioning earlier, Parliament rushed through a bill last week blocking a no-deal Brexit, so Johnson's going along with the suspension. He's sidelining Parliament. He's already lost his majority in Parliament, so he's a lame duck. And now Parliament's just a thorn in his side.

KELLY: And meanwhile, the further twist in here is the speaker of the House of Commons, the very colorful John Bercow, who is - he's known for shouting this. Let's hear him.






KELLY: All right. Well, adding to the disorder there in Britain is that Bercow says he will be stepping down soon. Why?

LANGFITT: Well, he is, of course - he's a hugely entertaining guy, as you mentioned. He's kind of a walking thesaurus and has become a bit of a cult figure even outside the United Kingdom. But he's also very controversial. Brexiteers fear - they argue that he broke parliamentary convention to favor people who wanted to keep the U.K. inside the European Union. He was for remaining in the European Union during the 2016 referendum. Conservatives actually want to run a candidate against him in the next election. And Bercow's been in office for about 10 years. I talked to him about this in an interview. He feels it's time to move on, and he'll be leaving either at the Brexit deadline of October 31 or an election, whichever comes first, which means pretty soon, we will no longer be hearing (imitating John Bercow) order, order, which many people - at least, I - will miss.

KELLY: (Laughter) I can hear you've been working on the accent there.

NPR's Frank Langfitt in London, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Mary Louise. 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.