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British Lawmakers Ditch Their Parties And Form A New Voting Bloc


The U.K.'s looming departure from the European Union has faced one obstacle after another. Here's the latest. This week, members of Parliament from each of the two major parties peeled off to create what they are calling, quote, "the Independent Group." One of their objectives is to force a second Brexit referendum. For more on what this might mean is Georgina Wright. She's a senior researcher on Brexit at the Institute for Government, which is a think tank based in London.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GEORGINA WRIGHT: No - thank you.

MARTIN: So this all started with the defection of Labour Party members from the left, but then three Conservative MPs have followed suit. What happened?

WRIGHT: Yeah, absolutely. So this week has been a bit of a roller coaster in what seems like a long roller coaster in British politics. We've had 11 members of Parliament who have left their parties to form a new group - so eight from the opposition party and, yesterday, three from the prime minister's party. Now, the main reason appears to be Brexit. They're frustrated by the government and the opposition's approach to these negotiations. I mean, we forget that we're under 50 days now from the U.K. leaving the EU and there's still no deal in place. And so that seems to be the main reason, but it's not the only reason. For example, those that left the Labour Party have signaled, also, the party's stance on, you know, not able to really take a tough stance on anti-Semitism also being a factor. So we will - we shall see what that group becomes in due course.

MARTIN: Right. But can you explain - when it comes to Brexit, you would surmise that Labour and the Conservatives, who have now formed this new group, would view Brexit differently. Right?

WRIGHT: Yeah, they do. So they've been very, very clear from the start. They think Brexit is a terrible idea. And they also sort of criticized the government for not kind of intervening and engaging with Parliament early on in the process. So where we are right now is, under 50 days, the government will back a deal from Brussels that it negotiated with its EU allies. When it brought it to Parliament, it failed the test. It didn't make it through.

Now, what is clear is a majority in the Parliament oppose the deal on the table. But what's not clear is why they oppose it. So some oppose it because they think the U.K. government's too soft and actually it should be much harder; we should be going for a clean exit. And these MPs who have defected have said, on the contrary, the approach is - could be disastrous and, actually, we need to prevent a no-deal at all costs, and we should be campaigning for a second referendum.

MARTIN: Wow. How likely is a second referendum?

WRIGHT: I mean, it's very difficult to say. I think the odds are rising for a second referendum. But I don't think there's been a big enough shift in public opinion to support it. And certainly, to have a second referendum, you need all sorts of conditions. You need a majority of parliamentarians to approve it - doesn't look very likely at the moment. And then you'd have all sorts of questions about - how long should a campaign be running? What question do you put on the ballot paper? And these are all things that we haven't really been looking at. So I think the odds are rising, but I don't think it's likely yet.

MARTIN: But just briefly, the formation of this new party - small p - this can't be good news for the prime minister, can it?

WRIGHT: So at the moment, they're not a party. They're just a group. And that's - the big question is - do they become a party? - because you know, apart from Brexit, what unites them? But certainly, Theresa May is going to have to take what they say seriously and certainly engagement more with Parliament going forward.

MARTIN: Georgina Wright of the Institute for Government in London, thanks so much.

WRIGHT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.