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U.K. Parliament Reconvenes Amid Showdown With Boris Johnson


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is flying back to London today. He cut short a trip to the U.N. General Assembly in New York after a court defeat. Britain's Supreme Court found Johnson broke the law when he suspended Parliament for weeks, right before a deadline for Brexit, which is coming right up, October 31. Let's go now to John Peet, the political and Brexit editor for The Economist magazine. Goodness, you've had plenty to do on that beat, haven't you, sir?

JOHN PEET: It's been quite busy, particularly this week.

INSKEEP: I imagine so. Welcome to the program. We should remind people that Boris Johnson has also repeatedly lost huge votes in Parliament. How much authority does the prime minister have left?

PEET: Well, he is in a difficult position. Not only has he just been ruled to be acting unlawfully by the Supreme Court in suspending Parliament, he lost his parliamentary majority the first day he appeared before Parliament, and he's since then lost six parliamentary votes. So he doesn't really control Parliament in any way at all.

INSKEEP: Does anyone?

PEET: Well, that's the problem. I mean, Parliament has repeatedly said it's rejected various deals for Brexit. It's repeatedly said what it doesn't like, but it can't seem to agree on what it does like. And for the time being, the process of Brexit and negotiating Brexit is in the hands of the government, but it's not clear that Parliament will ever vote in favor of anything.

INSKEEP: So Boris Johnson has negotiators with the European Union now trying to come up with a better deal than the one that Parliament rejected, that Theresa May came up with, the previous prime minister. He can't actually assure the Europeans that he would get parliamentary passage of anything he does negotiate, right?

PEET: I think that's a huge problem, as we've seen already in Brussels. The European Union would like Britain to leave with a deal, not without a deal. But they don't - they're not clear that any suggestion that they make for a new compromise would pass through Parliament. And they're also aware that Parliament has passed a law requiring the prime minister to seek further time if we get to the end of October with no deal. Parliament is against leaving with no deal. And I think that sort of stymies the process further.

INSKEEP: So I think you have explained my question about what comes next. Suppose there is no Brexit deal, which certainly seems plausible, October 31 arrives, they just shove the deadline back, or at least they plead with the Europeans to shove the deadline back, is that what happens?

PEET: I think what we're going to see in the second half of October is a request from somebody, probably from Boris Johnson, but if he won't make it, somebody else, to have a bit more time. And I think the European Union will, with some reluctance, say, OK, you can have now until the end of the year or the end of January. And the assumption will be that in that period, there will be an election. Whether that will produce a different Parliament with a different result remains to be seen. But I think we're heading towards an election, you know, maybe at the end of the year or early next year.

INSKEEP: Mr. Peet, this may seem like an irrelevant question, but I'll just ask it. Have you ever seen the movie "Groundhog Day," where the main character just lives the same day over and over and over and over and over again?

PEET: Yes, I have, and it's been a bit like that with Brexit for quite a long time now.

INSKEEP: Do you see anything that would get out of that cycle, even an election?

PEET: Well, I think the issue really will be Boris Johnson will try and run for an election on the basis that it's the people against Parliament. And if he wins a serious majority, then we will get some kind of Brexit, perhaps a Brexit with no deal. But if he doesn't win a majority, I think we're going to be stuck again, trying to negotiate a different deal with the European Union, which may or may not go through. And we could be stuck in this cycle for quite some time to come.

INSKEEP: Mr. Peet, thanks for your insights.

PEET: Thank you.

INSKEEP: John Peet is political and Brexit editor with The Economist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.