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After Last Week's U.K. Election, Where Do Things Stand With Brexit?


Theresa May is in a bind. The British prime minister called a snap election to get a bigger majority in Parliament so she could move forward with Brexit plans. But it backfired, and she lost her majority. So what does all this mean for Britain's strategy to leave the EU and for Theresa May herself?

We are joined now by Peter Spiegel. He is the news editor of the Financial Times in London, and he spent several years working as an EU correspondent in Brussels. Peter, thanks for being with us.

PETER SPIEGEL: Good to be on.

MARTIN: Lots of people were surprised May didn't just step down after losing her party's parliamentary majority. Where is she right now? Can she hang onto her job?

SPIEGEL: She probably can in the short term. There's expectation that this is going to be a premiership that'll last weeks or maybe months at most. I mean what you have now is a party that, as has been for decades, is hugely divided on the EU issue. You have sort of a core group of what they call Brexiteers, sort of hardcore - we want out now under any terms. And that has actually been her message going into the campaign.

Now, with a slim - actually with a hung Parliament where she relies on other parties to get majorities for legislation, she can't tow that hard line anymore. So you have new Scottish MPs from the Tory Party that are much more pro-EU who are demanding a more sympathetic exit, you know, from the EU, with maintaining some of these ties. So suddenly this has gotten hugely complicated for her. And in the divisions that have divided the Tory Party, again, for decades are now coming back to haunt her.

MARTIN: So all these negotiations - the Brexit negotiations are supposed to start a week from today. Are EU negotiators at this point now feeling an advantage because Theresa May has been so weakened?

SPIEGEL: I mean to be honest with you, they have been flummoxed by this process since the beginning. You know, there has been no strategy put out by the British government about what they want to talk about, what - the issues they wanted to delve into first.

And so to be honest with you, I'm not sure they feel - having talked to some of them over the weekend, I think it's wrong to say they feel they have an advantage. They are just hugely frustrated. They're worried now they're going to negotiate with a government that's going to collapse in the middle of these negotiations. And so there's a real nervousness that this thing is going to go nowhere. They just don't know who to talk to anymore.

MARTIN: I mean does this mean that Brits are having second thoughts about leaving the EU?

SPIEGEL: I think they are. And I think that was sort of the revenge of the Remainers we saw. I mean one of the real phenomena that happened during the referendum last year was, the number of young people who turned out to vote was very low. And the number of young people who support EU membership is very high. Now, what we saw in this election is a huge surge in turnout of the young, and they largely backed Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, the opposition party.

MARTIN: One last question, a broader question - French voters gave President Macron's party an overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections yesterday - so the opposite of what happened to Theresa May. In Paris, this is a brand new party. So what does that result and then May's near loss last week - what does all that say about what voters are looking for in Europe in this moment, politically?

SPIEGEL: I mean there is - there seems to be an opportunity for what is called in the U.S. the radical middle to step forward. And that's what Macron is, right? I mean you had basically the center-right party moving even further toward the right to deal with the populism on the far right, the Front National. You had the left of the party, the Socialist Party, which was in government for the last five years - you've seen their party move even further to the left...


SPIEGEL: ...To deal with the - sort of the extremists on the left who were rising. And suddenly you had something opening up in the middle. And that's where Macron really sort of capitalized. You haven't seen that happen in Britain yet, but there is a lot of talk. Should the Labour Party split itself and get the moderates to run as their own party? They tried that, you know, 20 years ago, and it didn't work very well.

But the question is, is there a radical middle that can respond to the extremes of the left and the right that seem to be merging all over Europe right now? And I think France gives a potential model for others. But right now, it's too hard to say whether this is going be exported elsewhere.

MARTIN: Peter Spiegel of the Financial Times in London, thanks so much.

SPIEGEL: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.