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Prime Minister Theresa May Says She Will Resign If Parliament Passes Her Brexit Plan


Today, British Prime Minister Theresa May had an interesting proposition for lawmakers who've refused to support her Brexit deal. May said she will resign if Britain's Parliament finally passes her withdrawal agreement. Lawmakers have already voted it down twice by huge margins.

Parliament spent the day debating alternatives to May's deal but still could not come to a consensus. Earlier today, the Prime Minister insisted hers was the only way to deliver Brexit.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: We have a deal, which cancels our EU membership fee, which stops the EU making our laws, which gives us our own immigration policy. Other options would lead to delay, to uncertainty and risk never delivering Brexit.

CORNISH: NPR's Frank Langfitt is following all the action in London. Hey there, Frank.


CORNISH: So Prime Minister May has had a very difficult time in office, obviously.


CORNISH: She's fought off two no-confidence votes. So why did she choose today to say she's willing to step down?

LANGFITT: Well, Audie, she just - she needs more votes for her plan, and this was pretty clearly a quid pro quo, the idea being if she's willing to step down, more people would vote for this plan and get it through.

Now, she met privately with members of Parliament in her own Conservative Party today, and she said she knew that the party wants new leadership. And this is the quote, "I'm prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what's right for our country and our party."

CORNISH: So has the offer to resign actually won her more votes?

LANGFITT: It has, actually. It was a pretty good strategy. She picked up at least two dozen more votes. That's not quite enough, but a good start, certainly. And she got some endorsements from pretty important people.

Boris Johnson - he's one - he was one of the leaders in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. He had talked about this plan of the prime minister's as something that risked political humiliation for the United Kingdom. He did a U-turn today, said he could support it. It's worth remembering that Boris Johnson, also, is widely thought to want the prime minister's job, so he may have other reasons to be supportive when the prime minister's talking about moving on.

Another was - another man was leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg. He had talked about her deal as being - turning the U.K. into a vassal state. He said he might be able to back it in certain circumstances.

But there are other Brexiteers who are still against it. And the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which has been propping up Prime Minister May's party in Parliament - they said they still won't vote for it. So at the moment, it doesn't look like she has got enough votes to get it through.

CORNISH: Now, the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has warned the Prime Minister not to bring the same plan back for yet another vote.


CORNISH: So is that a battle waiting to happen?

LANGFITT: It could. It could well be. He reiterated this warning this afternoon. This is what he said.


JOHN BERCOW: I understand that the government may be thinking of bringing meaningful vote three before the House either tomorrow, or even on Friday, if the House opts to sit that day. Therefore, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the government to meet the test of change.

LANGFITT: And so what he seems to be implying is if the prime minister tries to do this, he will defy her. And so it's possible as early as Friday, we could see a standoff in the House of Commons between the speaker of the House and the prime minister. And that would be high-stakes, high-drama. They're both big personalities, and the stakes are extremely high right now. We're getting very close to the deadline to leave.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what did lawmakers vote on tonight? And where does this leave Britain and Brexit?

LANGFITT: It's extraordinary, Audie. They had eight different paths forward, everything from revoking Brexit to a customs arrangement with the EU, which people thought might pass. All of them failed. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay - he said that these results actually strengthen the case for Prime Minister May's, you know, deal as the best option.

But we're also running out of time. If she can't get it through anytime soon in the next few days, the U.K. is supposed to come up with something new by April 12 or leave the EU with no deal at all.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.