What Conservative U.K. Wins Mean For The U.S.

Dec 14, 2019
Originally published on December 14, 2019 9:40 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party swept the elections this week in the U.K. Mr. Johnson now says he has a powerful mandate to get Brexit done. But the terms on which Britain leaves the European Union are still uncertain. The prime minister faces a country that is still divided and pulling at its seams.

We turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Prime Minister Johnson's party won the biggest majority for a conservative government since Margaret Thatcher. What does that mean immediately for Brexit?

LANGFITT: Well, Brexit - he's right. Brexit is going to happen. And I think it'll happen very soon. He didn't have the votes before. That's why he called this election. And he has a really big majority. But as you point out, the future isn't clear. Like, what's this relationship going to be going forward? They're going to have to work on a free trade deal.

And the interesting thing is I think a lot of people who wanted the U.K. to stay inside the EU are very disheartened by this huge majority that Boris Johnson got. On the other hand, it actually frees up Boris Johnson to be able to maybe have a closer economic relationship with the EU going forward once they leave because he's not beholden to sort of the hard right of his party now anymore, the ones who really don't like Europe. And so what I think's going to be really interesting to see, Scott, is what kind of future Boris Johnson forges now that he has this political freedom.

SIMON: He has to negotiate this trade deal with the EU in an extremely short period of time.

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Yes.

SIMON: He said he's not going to ask for an extension. So is it - is there still a possibility of a no-deal Brexit?

LANGFITT: You know, Wednesday, I might have said that before this vote. It's now that he has all these big numbers, I actually think - and he has gone back on things. He's made these pledges and then gone back on them. I think that he probably has the political capital to extend again if he needs to.

And certainly if he wants a good complex and comprehensive deal, he's going to need an extension. The idea of doing this in 11 months with the European Union is - nobody in Brussels believes that's possible. So I think that the cliff edge that we are expecting maybe at the end of next year, he can probably work his way through.

SIMON: And then there's the challenge of what's going on in Scotland because, of course, the Scottish National Party ran the table, did very well on the election on a platform of opposing Brexit. And they're claiming their own mandate for a new referendum on Scottish statehood. That's got to be a challenge, too.

LANGFITT: It's a big challenge. And I think that what you're going to see is Nicola Sturgeon, the head of Scottish National Party, asking for another referendum. Boris Johnson has said under no circumstances. And in order for that referendum to be real, to actually have an effect here, it has to be approved by the U.K. government to have that kind of referendum.

What I think is going to be interesting as we go into 2021, there'll be Scottish Parliamentary elections. And if the SNP does well then, it's going to put a lot of pressure on Boris Johnson to continue to refuse this request from, you know - what it'd look like - from the Scottish people themselves if they keep voting in this direction.

The other thing, though, that's really interesting, Scott, as you look at the European Union, you know, the Scottish National Party says, we want to leave the U.K. and rejoin the EU. We never want to leave in the first place. Is the European Union going to be willing to take a Scotland back? It does not want to be encouraging countries breaking up. So it's very complicated. And the next - I think the next couple of years are going to be very important to see what happens in Scotland for the future of the United Kingdom.

SIMON: Prime Minister Johnson has vowed to get this all done by January 31, 2020. Is that possible?

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's full steam ahead now. Now that he has this majority, it's going to be the opposite of the paralysis that you and I have been talking about in the last three years here. He's got the numbers. He - Parliament's going to reopen next week. He's going to introduce his - what has been a failed Brexit withdrawal agreement up until this point. And it should easily pass. And I think everyone's expectation is at the end of January, the U.K. is out of the EU.

SIMON: NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks so much.

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