‘Political meltdown’ grips UK after Theresa May’s Brexit defeat

The United Kingdom continues to face political turmoil over Brexit, as Prime Minister Theresa May failed to find enough support in Parliament for her amended agreement with the European Union. Judy Woodruff talks to Sir Peter Westmacott, former British ambassador to the U.S., about the most likely courses of action now, May’s “extremely fragile” majority and why Brexit matters across the globe.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we continue our look at today’s vote and where the U.K. goes from here with Sir Peter Westmacott. He had a 40-year career in the British Diplomatic Service and he served as his country’s ambassador to the United States.

    Sir Peter Westmacott, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

    So, what does today’s Parliament vote, rejecting this latest plan, what does it mean for the prospects of Britain leaving the E.U.? Is it now more likely or less likely?

  • Peter Westmacott:

    Well, we are now in a state of some political meltdown, as your correspondent was just explaining.

    I think at the moment it means that it is less likely that we leave on the 29th of March, as scheduled, because of today’s vote, which was resoundingly against Theresa May’s package, but also because, tomorrow, parliamentarians are very likely to vote heavily against the idea of leaving with no deal.

    So, if you haven’t got Theresa May’s deal, and you haven’t got no deal, then what have you got? Answer, on the third day, on Thursday, there will be a vote about whether to ask for an extension of the 29th of March deadline from the European Commission.

    And at the moment, that is what is most likely to happen in the near future. So I think leaving on the 29th of March is feeling a little less likely than it was before tonight’s vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you’re saying parliamentarians tomorrow likely to say, OK, we need some kind of deal if we’re going the leave, the question is, what does it look like?

  • Peter Westmacott:

    Well, it’s not even as clear as that, I’m afraid, Judy.

    What the parliamentarians will like say is, we don’t like the idea of what is crashing out with no deal, because it would be chaotic in a whole lot of different ways. And neither the European Union nor the United Kingdom is ready for that.

    But what they’re not saying is what they would like, and that’s part of the prime minister’s frustration. She rushed off to Strasbourg over the weekend to try and put a few improvements to her package, but, unfortunately, without checking first with her own law officer, the attorney general, thought that the package would do the trick.

    And he then opined this morning, saying it doesn’t give the legal guarantees that she had hoped for. And so result was the Parliament said, this isn’t good enough. So we’re a bit stuck in that sense.

    The most likely thing, therefore, is extending the timetable, if the European side will agree. And a lot of the signs today — this evening — since the vote, are that the European Commission and the European member states are not giving this away for nothing, that they will have their own views as to how long the extension might be.

    And there may be some conditions that are not to the liking of the United Kingdom. So you could still end up crashing out, but it feels to me it is not so likely that it…