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Brexit’s fate unknown after vote to delay agreement with EU

The fate of Brexit, Britain’s long-running plan to exit the European Union, remains unknown after an extraordinary session in the country's parliament Saturday that ended with a vote to delay a decision on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s negotiated agreement with the EU. Frank Langfitt, an NPR correspondent and author of, "The Shanghai Free Taxi," joins Alison Stewart from London to discuss.

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  • Alison Stewart:

    Frank Langfitt is a correspondent for NPR and author of the recent book "The Shanghai Free Taxi." He joins me now from London. What exactly did parliament vote on this morning?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Boris Johnson, the prime minister, wanted them to vote on his Brexit withdrawal agreement that would take the country out, ideally from his perspective and from the deadline at the end of this month. But instead, lawmakers in the parliament had a different idea. They're concerned that they can't get all the legislation finished in time, and they were afraid that the United Kingdom could inadvertently crash out of the EU with no deal at all, causing a lot of economic damage. So what they said, they've passed amendments saying we will approve this only once all the legislation has gotten done. So this has actually delayed the vote.

  • Alison Stewart:

    Who was responsible for setting up, for orchestrating the possibility of a delay?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Well, there were a number of lawmakers who were very concerned about crashing out of the EU. And also, I got to be honest, there's a lot of distrust of Boris Johnson. You remember last month he suspended parliament here. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, slapped him down, said you broke the law. And so there was concern that either through accident or perhaps deliberately, some Brexiteers might try to foil things, basically mess up the legislation so that the country crashed out. So people, even people who want to vote for this deal were very worried. And so they backed the amendment, compelling him to ask for an extension from Brussels.

  • Alison Stewart:

    What must Boris Johnson do legally now?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Legally, he is supposed to write a letter tonight to Brussels asking for an extension. He says he won't do it. He just refuses to. And the reason is that all along, he said that he would rather die in a ditch than go back to Brussels and promise to get the country out, because, of course, it's been almost three and a half years since the 2016 Brexit vote. And so he's adamant he won't do it.

  • Alison Stewart:

    What are the true sticking points?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    The true sticking point I think here really is the distrust of Boris Johnson and the fact that this timetable is so tight. This is one of the biggest decisions made by the UK government in many decades. And they don't want to make a mistake, and they don't want to miss something.

  • Alison Stewart:

    The Hill is reporting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling for the deadline for Brexit to be extended? Which leads me to wonder, what's been the economic impact of all of these delays?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    I was on a train recently up to Manchester, and I met two people who work in their headhunters in the city of London, the financial district. They voted to remain in the EU. They said that right now they can't get any business done. People can't make a decision because there's been so much uncertainty. And in fact, they would actually back Boris Johnson's deal. So they actually were switching sides. So from a business perspective, I think that this uncertainty has cost a lot.

  • Alison Stewart:

    What do average people think at this point?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    They're exhausted. What you hear a lot from people is: get Brexit done. Nobody thought — certainly when this was sold to people, the Brexiteers that this would be easy. It's been anything but. And I think there's a tremendous amount of Brexit fatigue. Even some people who voted to remain would like to see this done. I hear it even from some young people. So I think people are very tired of it. It's very interesting. You talk to people and they'll say even if there is short term economic damage, I just want the country to move on. It's very striking. That said, thousands were out today saying we need a new referendum in this country. The deal that Boris Johnson has is not at all what we voted for for 2016. So the country also remains very divided.

  • Alison Stewart:

    What is supposed to happen next? What are the next milestones?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    What I think that we will see is on Monday or Tuesday, Boris Johnson will try to bring this bill back. We will also see lawmakers go back to the courts to force him to ask for an extension from Brussels. And as is often the case, when we get into these branch Brexit crunch times, we get close to deadlines, we just have to see sort of day to day how this plays out.

  • Alison Stewart:

    NPR's Frank Langfitt, thank you so much.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Thanks for having me, Alison.

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