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Brexit: What Now?


Prime Minister Theresa May has been rejected more times than Charlie Brown. Parliament rejected the prime minister's plan for Brexit a third time this week, which brings the United Kingdom closer to leaving the European Union on April 12 with no deal, which many have said would have grave consequences, including shortages of food and medicine. Grave, by the way, is Prime Minister May's exact word. Tony Travers is an adviser to several House of Commons committees and a professor at the School of Public Policy at the London School of Economics. He joins us from London.

Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Is this getting to be a little like a Monty Python sketch?

TRAVERS: Well, certainly, elements of Monty Python have been invoked from time to time - the knight who's had their arms and legs cut off and tries to fight on. But also, of course, it's a very serious matter, too. How Brexit happens, if it happens, will affect Britain and the EU 27 and, indeed, other countries, as the process finally occurs - if it occurs.

SIMON: You keep saying if it occurs. Is there a real chance now that it won't?

TRAVERS: Anything's still possible to be honest. There's certainly a chance that the so-called Article 50 process - all of this - is extended. I mean, the U.K. government could ask for it - the process to be extended, and the EU might grant that. And that, of course, would just leave the U.K. in limbo. But it would mean that U.K. didn't leave and everything just carried on as before - so no shortages, no difficulties. But there's a sizable group of MPs who want no deal. And no deal could be - or should be or would be the default position on the 12 of April if absolutely nothing else has been decided.

SIMON: Does Parliament have the authority to say, look; we know that "leave" won the referendum, that it was a close vote, and Parliament has to pass a plan and we can't - so no?

TRAVERS: It does have the right to do that. I mean, as in many democracies, the legislature decides - and there, Parliament is the legislature - decides what the laws of the land are. And it is sovereign. I mean, of the many things that were said in the EU referendum, you know, returning sovereignty from Brussels to Westminster was a key theme for some people. So here is MPs using their sovereign power. And yes, they could override the referendum result if they believed it was impossible - or by accident almost.

But of course, they have to think long and hard about what people who voted in that referendum would then feel about Parliament. There's quite a lot of vituperation in the British press today. And I would expect that if MPs voted against that referendum result, there would be all sorts of consequences, though it's hard to know what they'd be.

SIMON: I don't want to rank crises, but I'll put the Battle of Britain first, of course. But - so as the Cambridge Five spy crisis, the Profumo case - where does this fit into British history?

TRAVERS: This is a big one, certainly, since 1945. Let me just park at World War II, which, you know, is an all-engulfing, total war. And beyond Suez, really - Suez was a miscalculation by Britain about the control of a part of the Middle East. But this is one about the future of the country and the way its political institutions work and what the public thinks about those political institutions. And that, I think, puts it now as the No. 1 crisis of this kind since 1945. And I think you're going to have to go back to the 19th century and struggle all over the Corn Laws and issues like that to come up with anything like a parallel.

SIMON: Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, thanks so much for being with us.

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