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Latest Developments In Parliament As May Faces No Confidence Vote

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Question time came today in Britain's Parliament. The prime minister regularly faces questions from lawmakers. And today she had to do it hours before a vote of no confidence by members of her party. Some oppose Theresa May's Brexit plan. Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn does not have a vote but is seen as waiting for a chance to rise to power.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEREMY CORBYN: Whatever happens with her conservative leadership vote today, it is utterly irrelevant to the lives of people across our country. It does nothing to solve the government's inability to get a deal that works for the whole country.

INSKEEP: Theresa May defended her position.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: He couldn't care less about Brexit. What he wants to do is bring down the government, create uncertainty, sow division and crash our economy. The biggest threat to people and to this country isn't leaving the EU. It's a Corbyn government.

INSKEEP: Ow. John Peet joins us next. He is political and Brexit editor with The Economist magazine. And you certainly have a lot to cover, sir. Welcome to the program.

JOHN PEET: Hello.

INSKEEP: So Theresa May is saying that Corbyn is the threat. But actually, the threat to Theresa May is members of her own party. What arguments are they making for a change in leadership?

PEET: Well, there's a core of people in the - MPs in the Conservative Party who very much dislike the draft Brexit deal that she negotiated in Brussels. They think it keeps Britain too close to the European Union. And they're very upset about an arrangement in Ireland that might keep Britain in a customs union with the European Union without any unilateral right to exit from it. They've made clear they're going to vote against the Brexit deal. But now with that vote having been deferred on Monday because she knew she was going to lose it...

INSKEEP: Sure.

PEET: They decided to - they've decided to trigger a confidence motion in her instead.

INSKEEP: Are there any of them who are willing to take her job?

PEET: Yes, there are. I mean, certainly, you know, if she were to lose tonight, which I have to say, I think, is unlikely, then I think one of these very hard Brexiteers, most likely Dominic Raab but possibly Boris Johnson, would put their names forward to replace her. And it's quite possible that one of them might win because the party in the country - the members of the Conservative Party out in the country who would have the final say - tend to be more anti-European and more Euroskeptic than the members of Parliament themselves.

INSKEEP: OK, so you think she is likely to win this vote. Would that actually strengthen her in the end?

PEET: Well, in a funny way, this argument about whether to have a confidence vote in her, which has been going on for some months now, has been all about that question. The very hard Euroskeptics in the party clearly felt they had enough numbers to trigger a vote. But their big worry, in a way, has been that if you do that and she wins, she may end up in a stronger position - not least because the party rules are that if you have a confidence vote and she wins it, they can't have another one for another year. So it could, at least, in theory, keep her in office for another year.

INSKEEP: I suppose this would be entertaining if there were not so much at stake for your country and for Europe and for the world. Are the chances increasing of Britain failing to sign onto any Brexit deal and just exiting the European Union with no terms made?

PEET: Yes, they are. And I - I mean, as you say, the entertainment value is, perhaps, quite high, what's been going on in Britain. But the real problem, in a way, is that there is a deadline here. And the deadline is the 29 of March next year, at which point Britain is supposed - as a matter of both European and U.K. law - is supposed to leave the European Union. If it were to leave with no deal at all, the result would be very messy, chaotic. It could involve long lines of trucks. It's not something that anybody would really want to contemplate. So we don't have much time left.

INSKEEP: And we'll see what happens tonight. John Peet, thank you so much. He is political and Brexit editor with The Economist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.