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On Brexit, British PM Boris Johnson stymied by rebels from his own party

With less than two months until the deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the course ahead for the separation appears no clearer. On Wednesday, British lawmakers passed a law to prevent Prime Minister Boris Johnson from executing a no-deal Brexit -- a measure supported by members of Johnson’s own party whom he had exiled. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to London and the showdown between the prime minister and Parliament over Brexit.

    As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports, with less than two months until the Brexit deadline to leave the European Union, the course ahead for the United Kingdom remains no clearer.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The mood in Parliament was spikier than usual for Boris Johnson's first ever question time as prime minister.

  • Man:

    Order. It's order, order.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Despite losing his parliamentary majority and being torpedoed by an internal party rebellion, Johnson adhered to his Brexit mantra.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    Well, this government will take this country out of the European Union on October the 31st.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the pledge had a hollow ring. Johnson's Conservative Party has been torn apart. The new prime minister kicked out 21 lawmakers who ignored his pleas to support the government.

    They rebelled by backing an opposition Labor Party bill designed to prevent Britain from leaving the E.U. without a deal. Johnson lambasted what he called this surrender bill.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    Mr. Speaker, let us be absolutely clear. This government is going to get a deal from our friends in Brussels. And we will get the backstop out. We will get an agreement which I think this House could approve.

    The only thing that is standing in our way is the undermining of those negotiations by this surrender bill, which would lead to more dither and delay.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn made it clear he didn't believe the prime minister.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    These negotiations that he talks about are a sham. All he's doing is running down the clock.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Johnson accused Corbyn of undermining Britain's negotiating position and of being scared of a general election.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    There's only one chlorinated chicken that I can see in this House, and he's on that bench.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Corbyn was in a feisty mood.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    Yesterday, he lost one vote, his first vote in Parliament. He now wants to dissolve Parliament. He's desperate, absolutely desperate to avoid scrutiny.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    After question time, the House began debating the Labor Party bill. One of the most poignant speeches came from a rebel sacked by Johnson, Sir Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.

  • Nicholas Soames:

    Mr, Speaker, I'm not standing on the next election, and I am thus approaching the end of 37 years service to this House, of which I have been proud and honored beyond words to be a member. I'm truly very sad that it should end in this way.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Outside Parliament, hard-line Conservative Brexiteer Nigel Evans had this reaction.

  • Nigel Evans:

    It's not as if they didn't know the consequences. It was explained to them beforehand. And so they knew what they were doing.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    European Union expert Professor Catherine Barnard believes Johnson's brutal cull could be a self-inflicted wound that will reduce his chances of leaving the E.U. on time.

  • Catherine Barnard:

    After three years of Theresa May, who's not been able to deliver Brexit, it was quite clear that there was a need for a different approach. And the different approach is to come in all guns blazing and say, we're going to deliver this come what may.

    So, it's tone, rather than substance. But the tone has clearly backfired rather badly.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Former Labor Cabinet Minister Chris Bryant believes Britain is now in an impossible mess.

  • Chris Bryant:

    It feels as if the country can't make its mind up on anything. Parliament certainly can't. We're badly led by the prime minister. And I don't know how we're going to get out of it.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Outside Parliament, Brexit supporter David Cooper was looking worried.

  • David Cooper:

    Well, I think it will happen. I think it has to happen, because the English people, the British people want it to happen. We voted to leave. We had a referendum. And we should be leaving.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Labor M.P. Tan Dhesi was upset with Johnson for disparaging Muslim women earlier this year, and his disdain has grown over the past few days.

  • Tan Dhesi:

    We have minimal trust in this prime minister. I think many of his own colleagues, his own M.P.s don't look to him.

    So, how can we look to him to unite us across the chamber in terms of the opposition parties? And how can we entrust him to unite our fractured society, our fractured country?

  • Protesters:

    Brexit now! Brexit now!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    On the green outside Parliament, rival factions kept up their chants.

    There's a sense here that the debate is becoming more raucous and impolite.

  • Nigel Evans:

  • Nigel Evans:

    He says, stop the coup. You hear that? Stop the coup.

    The real coup is against the British people who voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. And people like him just simply can't accept it.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    And this is Steve Bray, who has been outside Parliament for the past two years yelling "Stop Brexit" at every passing politician.

  • Steve Bray:

    And Brexit is in freefall. Last night was another nail in the coffin. And this is the end of Brexit. We're never leaving the European Union. Boris Johnson said, October 31, do or die. November the 1st, big funeral.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It's not clear if such optimism is justified. But those hopes were certainly bolstered tonight, as, with the support of the now sacked rebel Conservatives, the Labor Party passed that crucial bill.

    Deeply frustrated by Parliament, Johnson said the only option was a general election as soon as possible.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    In my view, and the view of this government, there must now be an election on Tuesday, the 15th of October.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    A short time ago, his bad day got worse. He lost that vote as well.

    There are, however, several other ways of trying to trigger an election.

    Boris Johnson really needs a Hail Mary pass if he's to fulfill his commitment to leave the European Union on October the 31st. He's gambling on a general election.

    Political analysts here believe that, if he should win such an election, he may try to repeal the bill that was passed tonight. But the feeling here is that he may have damaged his election prospects by exiling some of the heavyweights of the Conservative Party.

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

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