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How ‘Brexit paralysis’ is damaging the British government

The political divide in the United Kingdom continues to grow fiercer as the deadline for Brexit nears. While Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking an extension for the UK to leave the European Union, every option the country currently has on the table is likely to exacerbate the tensions that have already boiled over. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was another day of high drama for Brexit, as British Prime Minister Theresa May traveled to Brussels to meet European Union leaders.

    She's seeking an extension beyond next Friday's March 29 deadline for the United Kingdom to exit the bloc.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, many options, some more painful than others, lie ahead in this next crucial week.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In these divorce proceedings, one side knows what it wants.

    French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte all endorsed a short Brexit extension, if, and only if, British Parliament endorses the Brexit plan.

  • Mark Rutte:

    We will put it fairly and squarely again at the door of the British Parliament, because it is then for them to say yes to the whole thing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But breaking up is really, really hard, when the other side is infighting. Last night, British Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Britain's Brexit paralysis on Parliament.

  • Theresa May:

    So far, Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But much of Parliament blames her. Nonpartisan Parliament Speaker John Bercow:

  • John Bercow:

    None of you is a traitor. All of you are doing your best. And I believe passionately in the institution of Parliament, in the rights of members of this House, and in their commitment to their duty.

  • Dominic Grieve:

    At no stage did she pause to consider whether it is the way she is leading this government.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Dominic Grieve, a member of Theresa May's Tory Party.

  • Dominic Grieve:

    She was now simply zigzagging all over the place, rather than standing up for what the national interest must be.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Britain's political parties can't agree within themselves where that national interest is, says former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Heather Conley.

  • Heather Conley:

    The challenge with Brexit is that it's no longer keeping parties together. It's, in fact, breaking them apart.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This will all come to a head over the next week. Today and tomorrow, the U.K. and European leaders meet in Brussels. On Monday and Tuesday, Prime Minister May will ask Parliament, for the third time, to endorse her Brexit plan.

    Option one, May loses 30 to 40 of her own Conservatives, but gains support she hasn't had from Northern Irish coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, and 30 to 40 opposition Labor members, Brexit proceeds, but at great political cost.

  • Heather Conley:

    What happens to the Conservative Party? It is likely potentially to break apart after this deal is signed, because there's such deep division between those who wish to remain in the E.U. and those who wish to leave within the Conservative Party.

    But the Labor Party is equally as strange, and they will fracture along the lines of whether to remain close to the E.U. or leave it without a deal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Option number two, the deal fails, at which point there are more unknowns.

  • Heather Conley:

    We don't know whether she will resign if that vote is lost. We do not know whether there will be a motion to call for a new election. We don't know whether we can turn to the European Union to see if they would consider a much longer extension.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That leads to options three and four, the U.K. asks for a longer extension to try to come to consensus, or the U.K. leaves the European Union next Friday, as scheduled, without a deal.

  • Heather Conley:

    The European Union is going to have to make a decision, whether they're going to allow a no-deal crash-out, harming the European Union economy, as the U.K. economy, or they're going to give you an extension to the end of the year, or nine months.

    But in order to do that, the United Kingdom is going have to participate in the European Parliament elections. Again, that decision will split the Conservative Party deeply.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Which means, no matter what happens, the infighting will continue, as will the damage to Britain that Theresa May leads, admits Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

  • Jeremy Hunt:

    A Brexit paralysis is incredibly damaging for the country. And so she's appealing to M.P.s and saying, all of us in Parliament have a special responsibility to actually make sure we resolve this process.

  • Question:

    Is a delay to Brexit acceptable?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, a reporter tried to ask Brexit defender Boris Johnson to comment on the mess. Sometimes, it's easier to ride away.

  • Question:

    Anything? Mr. Johnson?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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