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What Boris Johnson’s Parliament move means for the chances of a no-deal Brexit

In the United Kingdom, the countdown to Brexit is on, and Parliament is out. Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved Wednesday to suspend Parliament, sparking criticism that he is seeking to prevent lawmakers from debating a deal to leave the European Union, which is scheduled to happen by October 31. Lisa Desjardins talks to Robin Niblett of Chatham House for analysis of the tense situation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The debate over Brexit in the United Kingdom intensified today, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to suspend parliament. That request was approved by the queen and will limit the amount of time Parliament convenes before the October 31 deadline for the U.K. to leave the European Union.

    Lisa Desjardins will have more on the story in a minute.

    But, first, we have this report by Paul Brand of Independent Television News.

  • Paul Brand:

    Tonight, the power is shifting from Parliament to prime minister. No need to defeat M.P.s, when he can just dismiss them, suspending their work, allegedly so he can get on with his own, and announce a plan for government.

  • Boris Johnson:

    By bringing forward a new legislative program on crime, on hospitals, and making sure that we have the education funding that we need. And there will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October the 17th summit, ample time in Parliament for M.P.s to debate the E.U., debate Brexit, and all the other issues, ample time.

  • Paul Brand:

    Three members of the government flying up to deliver Her Majesty's directions, refuting the claims of a coup.

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg:

    I would say they wouldn't know what they were talking about. It's a normal functioning of our constitution.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    What the prime minister is doing is a sort of smash and grab on our democracy in order to force through a no-deal exit from the European Union.

  • Paul Brand:

    The speaker, John Bercow, added: "Shutting down Parliament would be an offense against the Democratic process," suggesting he will help M.P.s act quickly.

    The protests, though, don't come from all quarters. Others are happy to vacate their benches, insisting it's nothing unusual.

    People will say you campaigned to bring democracy back to Parliament, and now you're in favor of closing Parliament down.

  • Peter Bone:

    That is — yes, but you can say that, but it's absolutely wrong. Parliament is not being closed down. The period is exactly how you would do it under any parliamentary period.

  • Paul Brand:

    Protesters managing to break through the barriers outside Parliament, arguing it's the prime minister who's crossing the line.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, what does this all mean for the United Kingdom, Brexit and the European Union?

    We turn to Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, the British think tank.

    Thank you for thank you for joining us from London.

    First, this would be the longest suspension of Parliament since 1945. It's obviously dramatic, and it could also be risky. Why do you think Prime Minister Johnson is doing this?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, he's basically trying to spike the guns of the opposition that want to try to take away the control of the E.U. negotiation, and not give them the time.

    Despite what he said in your lead-in of ample time, he is trying to cut down and constrain the amount of time they might have had in Parliament to try to force through legislation that would prevent him from allowing the U.K. to leave the E.U. without a deal by October 31.

    So, he has a very particular plan. Now, you say it is the longest period of suspension. Actually, he has been cleverer than that. He has combined what is a normal sort of 10 days, roughly, of prorogation allowed by the queen, so the new government he is leading can set out its program, he's linked that on to what is a traditional three-week recess for the party conferences at the end of September.

    So those five weeks have been created by linking those two chunks of time together, and really leaving Parliament only with about three days at the beginning of next week to try to block that loss of time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, when Parliament returns after the prorogation and suspension, all of that is completed, there will just be, by my calculation, a couple of weeks — that is what Mr. Johnson refers to as ample time — before Brexit is set it take full effect.

    Does this mean that a no-deal Brexit or a crash into Brexit is likely or certain at this point?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, what he would say — and there is obviously some truth to this — is that the only way he can get a deal or get the E.U. 27 to compromise on the existing withdrawal agreement that they established with Theresa May is for them to believe that the U.K. would definitely leave by October 31.

    So his point of view is, I need the negotiating credibility, not with Parliament holding a separate gun to my head, but the E.U. 27 have to believe it, so I can get some compromise on the famous Irish backstop. Then I can only do it if people really do believe we're going to leave.

    So, from his point of view, this is to strengthen his hand in the negotiation. Personally, I'm — I have to say, I'm skeptical that even if E.U. 27 did give some type of concession on the Irish backstop, that he would still be having committed because 30 billion pounds worth' of Britain money to be able to secure a two-year period of limbo within which the U.K. would carry on being in the single market, carry on being in the customs union, and trying to negotiate a future deal.

    So, I have to say, I'm a little bit skeptical that, even if he were able to get a concession on the backstop, whether he would be able to take it or get into Parliament.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And that, of course, is referring to the issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over all of this, and that border, how that border would work.

    But let me understand you. Do you believe then a no-deal Brexit is now likely?

  • Robin Niblett:

    I think a no-deal Brexit has got to be at least a 50 percent chance. I mean, that's — most people would have had it down to 10, 20 percent even three or four months ago.

    So it is a very real chance. Now, we have got to remember, a no-deal Brexit, if you know it's coming, and if the E.U. 27 know it's coming and the British government know it's coming, there will be mitigating steps they can take to make sure it really isn't the kind of cliff edge that is being described.

    But it would have a significant impact on the British economy. And I think the chance, as I said, are above 50 percent.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let me understand what that could mean then also.

    Is there any concern for increasing unrest, or perhaps more calls for separation of other countries within the U.K., like Scotland, because of this?

  • Robin Niblett:

    Well, it's very interesting.

    Ruth Davidson, who is the very charismatic and popular leader of the Conservatives in Scotland — that has often been a contradiction in terms, but she has done a great job of rebuilding support for the Conservatives in Scotland.

    There is talk she may actually hand in her resignation tomorrow. There's been all sorts of stuff on the news tonight. She's been a big proponent of Brexit and took actually Boris Johnson on during the referendum campaign directly.

    So, yes, this is the kind of thing that is going to really mobilize voters in Scotland to say, here we are, an English prime minister doing what's best for the English Conservative Party, against Scottish interests.

    There will also, of course, be a question, if there's a hard Brexit, on what happens in Northern Ireland, where a majority also voted to remain during the referendum in 2016. So, no, I think you can see where the passion that's been built up outside Downing Street, this has come as a shock.

    It is partly, I think, a sign of weakness on Boris Johnson's part that he's had to take this step, as transparently and really as he has. And we will see how — the blood is up and the newspaper headlines are going to be pretty severe tomorrow.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We will be watching this very closely.

    Robin Niblett, thank you for joining us.

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