A Look Ahead To Next Week's Brexit Vote In Britain's Parliament

19 hours ago
Originally published on December 7, 2018 7:02 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will take a Brexit withdrawal agreement to the British Parliament next week. That deal would keep the U.K. tied to the EU indefinitely as they work on an exit, which has many who voted to leave the EU furious, especially in Romford in east London. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: This is Romford, a middle- and working-class community about 40 minutes east of central London. It's Christmastime, so the lights are out. There's a Christmas tree just down the street. And people are out and about, after work, shopping for the holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

SUE CONNELLY: Hang on.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

CONNELLY: Andrew Rosindell's office. Can I help...

LANGFITT: Sue Connelly works as the secretary for the local member of Parliament here. A couple hundred calls and emails on Brexit come in each week.

CONNELLY: You won't believe what I've had. I've had emails coming through - you know, make sure this deal doesn't go through. I've had calls like that. I've had a chap standing there 10 minutes ago, hopping up and down with rage. He was red in the face.

LANGFITT: Romford is part of the London borough of Havering, where nearly 70 percent of voters backed leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum. Connelly says folks here feel politicians in London's Westminster bubble, the equivalent of inside the D.C. beltway, are ignoring the will of the people.

CONNELLY: People are feeling that the little people don't count and that these politicians, who have all forgotten that they are servants of the people, are trying to steamroll the Brexit into oblivion.

LANGFITT: Prime Minister May knows her deal is unpopular here in Romford and across much of the country. In fact, it's expected to go down to defeat on Tuesday. But she says it's the best deal the country is going to get. She's agreed that the U.K. will remain in a customs arrangement with the EU until the two sides can find a way to avoid new customs posts along the border on the island of Ireland. And that could take years.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS CHIMING)

LANGFITT: Here in Romford City Square, Carol Davis (ph) - she's a pensioner - is shocked by how Brexit's playing out.

CAROL DAVIS: I feel betrayed by not just the Conservatives in Parliament - every member of that Parliament. They gave the country, overwhelmingly, the right to vote for Brexit. Never in a million years did they think it was going happen, but it did. And now they're betraying the country. They're backtracking.

LANGFITT: But not everybody here who voted to leave the EU feels that way. Peter Hooper (ph) - he's 84 - says he now realizes how hard it is to leave the EU, and he's changed his mind.

PETER HOOPER: I'll vote to come out, actually. Basically, possibly, wrongly - I sort of say that now. I say it now because I was like all the others, I think - didn't realize what we were voting for or not voting for. I didn't realize that we couldn't just walk away. And I'd think most people didn't realize.

LANGFITT: Cooper says he and other Brexit voters didn't realize how difficult it would be.

HOOPER: I think we're like most people. We thought a couple of months, we'd be out it - borders shut.

LANGFITT: Back in 2016, pro-Brexit politicians painted a rosy picture of leaving the EU. They suggested walking away from decades of legal and economic integration with a single market of more than half a billion consumers wouldn't be that hard. In fact, the fraught Brexit process has become the nation's biggest political crisis in decades. The prime minister's solution - it's a compromise - has generated intense opposition in Britain's house of Parliament, but May does have her defenders, like Sue Meter (ph), who was shopping in the market here earlier this week.

SUE METER: They're all ganging up on her. And she's doing the best of what she can do. And that's all I got to say.

LANGFITT: May has just a few days left to build the support she needs to pass her Brexit deal. If she fails, the path forward is anyone's guess. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Romford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.