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U.K. Set For Dec. 12 Election


We know this - the British government is deadlocked on Brexit. Now they have decided that in order to break that deadlock, maybe it's time for an election. The House of Commons approved a December 12 election in a vote yesterday.


JOHN BERCOW: The ayes to the right - 438; the no's to the left - 20. So the ayes have it. The ayes have it - unlock. Order.

MARTIN: All right, to explain what all this means going forward, I am joined by Sebastian Payne with the Financial Times. Thanks for being with us, Sebastian.


MARTIN: Why is this happening now?

PAYNE: So essentially, Boris Johnson became prime minister back in July, and ever since then he's tried to resolve the Brexit conundrum. And he's chiefly done that by negotiating a new deal with the EU, which is essentially a tweaked version of Theresa May's exit package, and he brought that back to the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago.

But the prime minister struggled to get that deal through on the timetable he wanted because when he was elected to that position, he promised that the U.K. would leave the EU on October the 31 - come what may, do or die - in his own words. And it's October 31 almost, and we're not leaving the EU.

MARTIN: Right.

PAYNE: And Mr. Johnson is blaming Parliament for that. And he said, if this Parliament won't pass my deal, then we need a new one; that's why we're having a general election.

MARTIN: But is he so convinced that a general election is going to get him more votes for his Brexit plan? What if it backfires?

PAYNE: Exactly. It's a huge gamble for Mr. Johnson because his party are about 11 points ahead in the polls, as high as 16 in some surveys. But the fact is general elections take control of this process away from politicians and hand it to the public. And as we saw in the U.K.'s last general election in 2017, it's an incredibly volatile time. Voters are changing all the time from different parties.

So Mr. Johnson is going to run on a slogan of getting Brexit done, but his rival, the Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn, is going to be running on a platform of improving public services and looking at society after Brexit. So while the prime minister might want this to be about leaving the EU, the election could turn into a debate on entirely different matters, some of which could be very uncomfortable for him.

MARTIN: What does this mean moving forward? I mean, we - as we noted, the October 31 deadline has come and gone. Let's play out a couple of scenarios. I mean, let's say Boris Johnson gets what he needs - he gets a majority in Parliament, and he gets his plan through. Where does that leave the U.K.?

PAYNE: So the U.K. now has a Brexit delay. I think it's the third or fourth Brexit delay we've had, which will go to the 31 of January 2020. So if Mr. Johnson is returned with a majority government or if he is the largest party and forms the next government in some capacity, his first aim will be to pass that Brexit deal through Parliament. He might try and do that before the end of this year, and MPs will have to sit over the Christmas break to try and do that. So that's this now - he would like to do.

But if Labour's Jeremy Corbyn wins and he becomes prime minister or forms a coalition with other parties, then we'll be having another Brexit delay and another referendum on the Brexit question because the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats who are the most strongly pro-remain party and the Scottish National Party who are campaigning for Scottish independence, they all want to stop Brexit, and they all want to have a second referendum.

So there is a possibility, in fact, that the whole thing is thrown up into the air again, and we have another referendum. And even though this election is de facto another choice on Brexit, the British public could be asked once again whether they still want to leave the EU.

MARTIN: Sebastian Payne writes about British politics for the Financial Times. Thank you so much.

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