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Britain's Political Crisis Sets Prime Minister against Parliament


Anti-Brexit demonstrators stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Sept. 9, 2019.
Britain Preparing for Elections as Political Crisis Sets Prime Minister Against Parliament
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Britain will most likely hold general elections in November. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost his parliamentary majority and no longer has the votes to pass legislation.

Parliament was officially suspended early Tuesday morning. The move came just weeks before Britain is supposed to leave the European Union.

Opposition lawmakers have likened parliament’s suspension to a coup. A high court agrees. Judges at Scotland’s highest court have ruled the suspension “illegal.”

The case is to go to Britain’s Supreme Court next week.

The country is set to withdraw from the European Union on October 31. Last week, opposition lawmakers passed legislation that may force the prime minister to ask EU officials for an extension.

The political crisis must end soon, says Stephen Booth. He is acting director of the Open Europe policy group in London.

The British public is readying for an election, he said, and that is one reason Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin and others want to see “Johnson sent to Brussels…to ask for an extension.”

Johnson says Brexit will happen

On Tuesday, the prime minister met with students at a London school, where he announced new investment in education. The announcement was widely seen as a start to his election campaign.

“I think we will get a deal (with the EU). But if absolutely necessary, we will come out with no deal,” Johnson told reporters.

Opposition lawmakers have warned they will take him to court if he refuses to ask for an extension.

British politicians are looking for an escape route, noted Stephen Booth.

“One is simply refusing to comply and seeing what happens in terms of any court cases or legal action that might happen,” he said.

Parliament suspended

For now, parliament has been silenced, and opposition lawmakers are angry.

Tuesday morning, several lawmakers interrupted parliament’s closing ceremony by trying to stop the parliament speaker from leaving his chair. Others held up protest signs and shouted “Shame on you!” at Conservative Party lawmakers.

The Conservatives will likely have an election campaign that accuses parliament of trying to overturn the 2016 EU membership referendum, says Catherine Barnard. She is a professor of European Union Law at the University of Cambridge.

“What we’re seeing…is direct democracy through referendum fighting representative democracy” through parliament, Barnard added.

On Tuesday, EU officials began appointing a new team of representatives for negotiations. Even if Britain asks for an extension, some EU member countries could veto it, Booth said.

“I think (there is) a growing frustration in the European Union, sort of, ‘We are open to an extension but what is the plan?’” he added.

One of the major problems in negotiations is the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Now a peaceful, open border, there are fears that any changes resulting from Britain’s EU withdrawal could lead to a return of violence.

On Monday, dissident Irish Republicans attacked police in Londonderry, a sign that the effects of a British withdrawal are about more than political theatrics.

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA’s Henry Ridgwell reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

coup – n. a sudden attempt to take over the government and get rid of the ruling party

supreme adj. chief or leading; first

routen. a way of getting from a starting point to a target or goal

comply – v. to follow, obey or respect

interruptv. to stop the progress of someone or something

shame – n. dishonor or disgrace

referendum – n. an event in which the people of a county, state, etc., vote for or against a law that deals with a specific issue : a public vote on a particular issue

frustration – n. anger; bitterness

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