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Brexit, Boris and bedlam: British politics ‘hobbled’ by stalemate

In the United Kingdom, lawmakers rushed to complete work before Parliament disbands, approving a bill that requires Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay Brexit if he doesn’t have a deal with the European Union by the October 31 deadline. But critics say Johnson’s dismissal of Parliament until mid-October is a ploy to foil anti-Brexit machinations. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The British Parliament was as blur of activity today, as lawmakers rushed to get work done before they are forced to disband until mid-October.

    They approved a bill that requires Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay Brexit, now just over six weeks away, if he doesn't have a deal. They were also voting on his effort to force a snap election next month.

    Johnson is dismissing Parliament until mid-October. His critics say it's a ploy to prevent further anti-Brexit machinations.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has this update.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Boris Johnson began his day in Dublin with his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar. He was addressing one of the key Brexit issues, the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland in the south, which is part of the E.U.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    I want to get a deal. Like you, I have looked carefully at no deal. I have assessed its consequences both for our country and yours. And, yes, of course, we could do it. The U.K. could certainly get through it, but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Johnson wants an alternative to what's known as the Irish backstop, a mechanism designed to prevent a hard border between the republic and the north. The government in London opposes it because it claims it could keep the U.K. tied indefinitely to the E.U.

  • Prime Minister Leo Varadkar:

    In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    As he returned to Westminster, Johnson's hands were officially tied by the final approval of a law designed to stop the government leaving the E.U. without a deal.

    Cabinet members have suggested the prime minister may try to circumvent that new law. The bill's author, Hilary Benn, has threatened a legal challenge if that happens.

  • Hilary Benn:

    If the government tries not to do what the bill, which will become an act on Monday, says very clearly they have to do, then it provides time to go into court.

    Lawmaker Tommy Sheppard's Scottish National Party is fighting to thwart Johnson.

  • Tommy Sheppard:

    There really is a case of the lunatics having taken over the asylum here. I mean, the people that seem to be running the strategy in No. 10 Downing Street are not playing by the normal rules.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At the Institute for Government, historian Catherine Haddon said the current state of British politics is the most chaotic in centuries.

  • Catherine Haddon:

    Parliament is the creator of law, so for them to even be talking about the idea of, you know, not obeying the law or trying to find ways to disrupt the intention of that law is an incredible situation that we are finding ourselves in.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    One of the loudest voices of the Brexit campaign will soon be silent. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow promised to step down on October the 31st, the date Britain is scheduled to leave the E.U.

    The reality is, he jumped before he was pushed. His departure follows that of Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd over the weekend. She accused the prime minister of an assault on decency and democracy.

    Meanwhile, more and more E.U. member states are warning that a no-deal Brexit is looking more likely.

  • Heiko Mass (through translator):

    The British Parliament has decided that it wants to prevent a no-deal Brexit. And we remain ready for discussion in principle.

    We must also make an orderly exit possible, which is preferable, but for this to happen, we finally need a decision and proposals from London.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    As Parliament began its last debates before being closed down by the prime minister, rival factions outside tried to make their voices heard.

  • Lisette Stux:

    I am very afraid. This smacks of 1930s Germany. Hitler closed down the Parliament. This is what Boris is doing.

  • Man:

    In God's name, will the traitor M.P.s go?

  • Woman:

    This is it, do or die. We're leaving on the 31st of October.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    With Parliament shuttered for the next five weeks, Boris Johnson is not going to be distracted by bruising fights in the chamber. Although he's lost his majority, he's still in charge of the country. And now he can concentrate on trying to persuade the E.U. to give him a Brexit deal.

    At the same time, his government is stepping up preparations just in case the country does crash out of the E.U. without a deal. The uncertainty that's hobbling Britain is no closer to being resolved.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in London.

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