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British Conservative Party Members Hand Johnson A Historic Defeat


What is the next move for British parliamentarians who defeated Boris Johnson? The U.K. prime minister lost a big vote yesterday. Rebels in his own Conservative Party joined opposition parties to seize control of Parliament's agenda. They now plan a vote as soon as today to block the U.K. from leaving the European Union without a negotiated agreement to replace the EU arrangements.

One of those 21 Conservative MPs who broke with their prime minister is Ed Vaizey. He joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

ED VAIZEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: I should remind Americans that, in Britain, the prime minister normally controls the agenda in Parliament. He was blocked yesterday. What was it like to be on the floor for yesterday's vote?

VAIZEY: Well, it was exciting. I mean, the chamber the House of Commons - I often take Americans around it. It's very different from Congress or the Senate. It's very confrontational. There are seats facing opposite each other, so you get to shout at each other. But, of course, in this instance, the fight was between people sitting on the same benches. So you kind of shout across at each other. It's also a very small chamber, a very intimate chamber. So in that sense, it adds to the drama.

INSKEEP: Well, Prime Minister Johnson said he would expel you rebels from the Conservative Party. Did that happen overnight? Are you no longer a member of the Conservative Party?

VAIZEY: Yeah. He's been true to his word. I have lost what we call the whip. So we're not members of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, we're independent MPs, which has been forced on us rather than a choice made by us.

INSKEEP: Now, the prime minister has said that he didn't actually want to leave the European Union with no deal. He said he wanted negotiating leverage. He wanted to be able to threaten to crash the bus, so to speak, and leave with no deal and use that threat to get a better deal from the EU. Why was that not the right plan?

VAIZEY: It is a persuasive argument. And in fact, I was quite supportive of it. So for me, the decision to rebel was on a knife edge. So the argument is perfectly legitimate and understandable because if I'm going to get the EU to move to remove some of the stuff that Parliament objected to, they've got to believe that I'm definitely going to leave on the 31 of October, which is the latest date that we have for leaving. That was his view.

And it wasn't just directed at the EU, I should say, it was also directed at Parliament...


VAIZEY: ...(Unintelligible) strategy to say to Parliament, this is it now. It's a binary choice. Either you get your act together and vote for a deal, or we're going to crash out. So that would...

INSKEEP: But you said that, ultimately, you couldn't go along with that. That's why you voted to block the prime minister. Why?

VAIZEY: Well, let me explain what changed. Last week, the prime minister announced what is called a prorogation, an ancient word that we Brits obviously love to use when we can, which basically means that he was suspending Parliament for longer. That meant that we weren't going to sit in Parliament for a couple of weeks.

And at that point, people realized that unless they push through legislation now that would take no-deal off the table, they would not get the chance do it in any meaningful sense before the deadline of the 31 of October.

INSKEEP: You wanted to do that later, but instead you had do it now. So are you going to be...

VAIZEY: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...Voting today to take no-deal off the table for the United Kingdom?

VAIZEY: Yes. So what has changed is that Parliament now controls the agenda, not the government. That's what we voted on yesterday. That's called - that's the constitutional crisis or the constitutional outrage, depending on your point of view.

Today, we will - now that we control the agenda, we will vote on that bill. It will be voted through in one day's sitting, which is very unusual for a parliamentary bill. We will then go to our House of Lords where very, very complicated fun and games will happen because their procedures are different. But the plan is to try and get this legislation passed before Prime Minister Johnson suspends Parliament, which he's planning to do on Monday. So it's a race against time.

INSKEEP: Mr. Vaizey, thank you so much for the explanation.

VAIZEY: Take care.

INSKEEP: Ed Vaizey is a member of the British Parliament and a former member of the Conservative Party. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.