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As the British Parliament prepares to vote Tuesday on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to exit from the European Union, police are taking precautions for what could be a violent backlash. To some, the vote is the biggest decision since World War II. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.
Police in the United Kingdom are preparing for possible violence and are closing roads in central London in advance of a planned "Brexit Betrayal" demonstration scheduled for tomorrow.
This comes with just days to go before the British Parliament makes one of its most important decisions since the Second World War: whether to support or reject the way in which the country leaves the European union after 45 years of membership.
The 2016 referendum, in which the British people voted to leave the EU, has created unprecedented division in Britain, to such an extent, that some experts are warning that social unrest could be imminent. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.
With just over three months to go before Britain's formal departure date, so called Remainers cling to the hope that they can thwart Brexit. They're angry at the impending loss of benefits associated with European membership, the anti-immigrant stance of many Brexiteers and the potential isolation of Britain. In Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Opposition Party, believes Theresa May's tenacious defence of her deal with the other 27 EU countries increases his chances of ascending to power.
The Prime Minister may have achieved agreement across 27 heads of state, but she's lost support of the country.
A rebellion within her own party is a bigger threat to Theresa May's future than Jeremy Corbyn. About 80 of them are ready to vote against her plan on Tuesday. They object to the EU's conditions governing the island of Ireland during the post-Brexit transition period.
The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which would leave the EU under Brexit. Both the EU and Britain want to prevent the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland but they can't agree on a solution. Until there's a final Brexit settlement, Northern Ireland will remain within the EU's free trade zone, and its border with Ireland will remain open. Theresa May's opponents fear Northern Ireland's special status would effectively mean partition of the United Kingdom. They're also concerned that Britain will be trapped into following EU rules for an indefinite period of time. Conservative member of Parliament Nigel Evans.
The Attorney General has made it clear that we cannot with the withdrawal agreement unilaterally leave the European Union. We want to control our own laws in the United Kingdom. And the withdrawal agreement as it currently stands, doesn't allow us to do that.
Conservative rebels like Evans want Theresa May to demand new concessions from European leaders who are being tough on Britain because they don't want any more countries to exit the bloc. The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker insists there'll be no more compromises.
This is the best deal possible, this is the only deal possible.
I don't think we believe that. We really do have to go back to the drawing board and try a bit harder quite frankly.
In Evans' district, 230 miles north of London small business owners are caught in the middle.
Elements of Brexit are very useful to our business.
Jack Singleton is an executive with Grandma Singleton's Cheese.
We export to forty countries and of those forty countries it would be preferable for us to be able to negotiate individual trade deals and be outside of the single market.
However, the current uncertainty is unsettling to singleton.
Theresa May's deal gives us certainty and without certainty for those exports in the short-term with a perishable product, we could find ourselves in serious trouble.
Derek Hayhurst, whose cow's supply the milk for Singleton's cheese, concurs.
We could just do with some certainty, we could and then we know where we are going, what steps we should be taking. The only thing we just want to make a living, you know.
Bigger businesses like BMW, the German owners of the Mini-plant in Oxford are taking steps. They're planning to shut down the factory for four weeks immediately after Britain leaves the EU to ensure they don't have supply problems. Along with other motor manufacturers, they're warning that a no-deal Brexit could be disastrous. That's something auto workers agree with.
Tony Burke of Unite the Union represents British auto workers. An influential trades unionist, he's been lobbying against Theresa May's plan.
Quite frankly, the whole thing is an absolute disaster. What do I see as the alternative? We in Unite are asking MPs to vote down the deal, to reject it, and then if we need to, to move towards a General Election so we can get a government who can actually get involved and negotiate and try and get a proper deal with the European Union and one that protects us for the future.
This is Maidenhead, west of London, the district represented in Parliament by Prime Minister Theresa May. In common with other towns, Main Street here has its share of boarded up businesses and low-budget stores. Remainers here are campaigning for a second referendum, in other words, for the country to vote on Brexit again in the belief that the result would work in their favor.
So what we're doing is giving people a chance to say, for example here in Theresa May's constituency of Maidenhead, do they want a people's vote and they're saying quite clearly, as demonstrated here, they want a people's vote and that Theresa May does not represent them.
The people have already spoken, you know, come on let's try and try again until we get it right, until we get a no Brexit like what they want. No.
Because the best deal with the EU is membership with the EU.
The best deal is to just get the hell out.
What it would say about the state of our Democracy, if the biggest vote in our history were to be rerun because the majority in this house didn't like the outcome and what it would do to that democracy and what forces it would unleash.
Many analysts believe that Theresa May's days as Prime Minister are numbered, but she's not going down without a fight. Her determination has earned admiration from those who previously doubted her, but her more entrenched opponents believe that she's developed a bunker mentality, proclaiming that victory is possible when defeat is far more likely.
PROFESSOR RUTH HARRIS:
One of the things about the moment is that we don't know how great a crisis this is because no one has ever attempted to do something like this.
Ruth Harris is a Professor of Modern European History at All Souls College Oxford.
I think there's going to be a lot of trouble. I think that what is interesting now is that there is tremendous discontent and a feeling that there isn't proper leadership to deal with the current crisis. We have the kind of discontent I think that people have in France.
Historian Ruth Harris sees parallels with France where violent protests recently forced President Macron to scrap fuel tax rises.
People were feeling this seething under the surface for years and then instead what's happened is it's come to the surface. Whether or not it will end in civil unrest is just so unclear. There's nothing yet organizing us, but after all this movement in France came out of nowhere, let's see what happens here.
I would hate to see civil unrest in this country, but I think there is an underestimation by those who have literally spent the last two years trying to overturn the democratic wishes of the people and if somehow or other they use a device and they're able to do that, that they deny the British people what they voted for, then I think we're in for huge problems within uncharted territory and I'm incredibly worried by that.
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Malcolm Brabant has been a special correspondent for the PBS Newshour since 2015.
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