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British Prime Minister Theresa May Is Again Trying To Forge A Consensus Over Brexit

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is yet again facing an elusive task - forging consensus with members of the British Parliament over Brexit. Now, if she succeeds, she could then return to the European Union and ask for concessions. May's first plan was resoundingly rejected by Parliament last week. Today she tried again. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London to talk more about it. Hey there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So what did the prime minister say to lawmakers today? What was different?

LANGFITT: Well, she sort of said - she didn't add very much, frankly, Audie. She said she's going to try to find some kind of compromise in Parliament that the EU will back and that she's going to talk - continue to talk across party lines. The biggest sticking point we've been talking about for months here is avoiding customs checks along the border in Ireland while not trapping the United Kingdom inside a customs arrangement with the EU that could last for years. And here's what the prime minister said.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: We will work to identify how we can ensure that our commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland and Ireland can be delivered in a way that commands the support of this house and the European Union.

CORNISH: So how is this different from what the prime minister said last week?

LANGFITT: It's not very different at all. She's been saying this for some time. And the thing about today - she didn't offer any new details, and that's kind of the problem. You know, before, she hadn't even been consulting with other parties in Parliament when she was negotiating this deal with the European Union. And today, the opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn - he said the whole process feels like the movie "Groundhog Day." And it certainly feels that way to a lot of people who've been covering it. She finally now says she is going to compromise with other parties. And this is what Corbyn had to say.

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JEREMY CORBYN: So, Mr. Speaker, no more phony talks. Parliament will debate and decide. And this time - this time, Mr. Speaker, I hope and expect the government to listen.

CORNISH: So we hear a lot about Parliament saying they want to take control of the process. But did we see any evidence of them trying to do that?

LANGFITT: Yeah, you did hear more people referring to that today. Yvette Cooper - she's a parliamentarian with the Labour Party. She said some members of Parliament want to be able to vote on specific elements of a Brexit plan, including things that they're really interested in, like keeping a much closer relationship by staying inside the EU Customs Union. This is what Cooper had to say.

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YVETTE COOPER: But to be honest, we heard all of this before. If she's serious, why not give Parliament a say? Why not put to Parliament some votes on her red lines, including a Customs Union? Otherwise, how can any of us believe a word she says?

(CHEERING)

LANGFITT: And what Cooper's talking about here, Audie, is the opportunity to really reshape the deal that the prime minister wants. When she's talking about red lines, the prime minister said, we're going to leave the giant single market; we're going to leave the Customs Union of the European Union. What Yvette Cooper's saying is, we want to have different choices here; we don't like your plan; we'd like to see something much closer with the EU.

CORNISH: And the clock is running out. March 29 is the deadline for Britain to leave the EU. Where does this leave the prime minister?

LANGFITT: She's got to find some kind of consensus with Parliament, which is very difficult because Parliament is deeply divided. Many members of Parliament want completely different things. It's a tough thing for the prime minister to do. Then if she gets that, she's got to go back to Brussels and get concessions. Brussels has said no more negotiations. Then she comes back on the 29, puts something in front of Parliament, which they can amend. And we'll see where it goes from there.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London. Frank, thank you.

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

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