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In Britain, Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘hardball’ prompts protests

Great Britain's political drama is intensifying this week, as the fallout continues over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament in advance of the October 31st deadline for Brexit. In response, some Labour Party lawmakers are trying to push emergency legislation that would prevent the UK from leaving the European Union without a deal. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Britain has begun a critical week in the battle over its planned exit from the European Union.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered members of his governing Conservative Party to back his efforts to secure the best possible Brexit deal. The state of Britain's democracy is now under severe scrutiny, after Johnson obtained the queen's permission to suspend Parliament, in an apparent attempt to halt debate over Brexit.

    As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports, that move led to dozens of demonstrations over the weekend.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Members of Boris Johnson's Cabinet were summoned to his Downing Street residence for an emergency session. He told them he's optimistic of getting concessions from Europe, so that Britain can leave on October the 31st with a deal.

    But his plans are being threatened by an opposition bill due to be tabled by the Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, tomorrow. With demonstrators jeering in the background, the prime minister urged his party to back him.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    But if there's one thing that can hold us back in these talks, it is the sense in Brussels that M.P.s may find some way to cancel the referendum or that, tomorrow, M.P.s will vote with Jeremy Corbyn for yet another pointless delay.

    I don't think they will. I hope that they won't. But, if they do, they will plainly chop the legs out from under the U.K. position and make any further negotiation absolutely impossible.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The implied threat was that, if the government fails to defeat the bill in Parliament tomorrow, he will seek a general election.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    I don't want an election. You don't want an election. Let's get on with the people's agenda.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Johnson spent the weekend war-gaming with his closest advisers at his official retreat, Chequers, after he decided, controversially, to suspend Parliament for five weeks.

    His ultimatum is a response to plans outlined by Labor's Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer.

  • Keir Starmer:

    The legislation is simple and straightforward, the purpose of which is to ensure that, if we get to the 31st of October without a deal, we do not crash out.

    There's no mandate from the referendum for crashing out without a deal, nor is there a mandate from Parliament for that. So, actually, Boris Johnson has no mandate for this at all.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Two opinion polls conducted in recent days indicate that Boris Johnson is gaining support for his tough stance. Despite the resistance to the suspension of Parliament, one of those polls suggests that Johnson would win a general election.

    He's buoyed by reactions like this from businesswoman Kindi Kaur, a Conservative supporter. She's from Gravesend, a district east of London that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.

  • Kindi Kaur:

    I think Boris has done a fantastic tactical move here to make everyone pull their acts together and give us a good deal. Otherwise, thank you very much. We're leaving, whether you like it or not. And we are strong enough to survive this.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The shockwaves of Boris Johnson's nuclear option to suspend Parliament have reverberated nationwide. There may not have been thousands on the queen's doorstep at Windsor Castle, but the symbolism was obvious.

  • Protesters:

    Stop the coup! Stop the coup!

  • Zoe Binnie:

    I think this is a British coup. It's very polite, it's very unassuming. And that's the worst thing. It's very quiet. They slip things through the door. Before we know, we have accepted things that we didn't realize were going to happen.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The precise verb to suspend Parliament is prorogue. The prime minister insists it's a standard procedure, leaving ample time for lawmakers to debate Brexit.

    But protesters don't believe him.

  • Claire Paton:

    It's the most vital time in our recent history, and he's just shut everybody up. He's shut everybody out, so he can force through what the vocal minority of people want, which is a no-deal Brexit.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Architect Matthew Taylor is concerned that Johnson is flouting the conventions of Britain's unwritten constitution.

  • Matthew Taylor:

    In the past, it's relied lots of trust and good faith, a belief that the people in charge are doing the right thing. But if they switch to not doing it, it's very easy to start abusing a system like that, because there aren't enough checks and balances in place.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Another reason for staging the protest here.

    Just opposite the queen's favorite pad in Windsor lies Eton. The very name exudes privilege in class-obsessed Britain. That Ivy-est of Ivy League schools, Eton College, is where Britain's royals and upper crust send their heirs to learn about gaining and using power. It's produced 20 British prime ministers, including the latest, Boris Johnson.

  • Protesters:

    Hey, ho, Boris Johnson has to go!

  • Angus Cameron:

    The idiot that got schooled just down the road has in one or two weeks destroyed everything. We are supposed to be the home place of democracy. OK? No longer.

  • Craig Mackinlay:

    This has got nothing to do with outrage about democracy. This is all to do with trying to stop Brexit. And it's not going to work.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Craig Mackinlay is a leading member of a hardcore conservative group of lawmakers? known as the Spartans. They helped depose the previous prime minister, Theresa May, because they thought she wasn't tough enough on Brexit.

    Mackinlay defends Parliament's suspension as normal, and applauds Johnson's push for a better Brexit deal from Europe.

  • Craig Mackinlay:

    Everybody goes to look at new houses, new cars. You don't go into that showroom to buy a new car and saying, I'm not leaving here until I buy it. If you're not getting the deal you want, the price you want and the extras you want, you walk away.

    So what Prime Minister Johnson has done is trying to get that no-deal threat back on the table, because only if you have that no-deal threat, in my view, have you got any chance of getting a deal that would be acceptable.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There are fears that a no-deal Brexit would cause hold ups at ports like Dover. The government has promised there will be no food shortages. But Matthew Taylor is not convinced.

  • Matthew Taylor:

    If anything, civil unrest is likely to start when there are food shortages and stuff. Only a few months ago, we had people phoning the police because KFC ran out of chicken.

    So, if people are going to react like that about that, their idea of this Blitz spirit, where they all kind of survive on homegrown vegetables, it's not going to happen.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    They're not starving just yet, but there's increasing worry, in picture-postcard Britain, that the country's destiny is about to change forever.

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

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