JUDY WOODRUFF: Britain has begun a critical
week in the battle over its planned exit from
the European Union.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered members
of his governing Conservative Party to back
his efforts to secure the best possible Brexit
The state of Britain’s democracy is now under
severe scrutiny, after Johnson obtained the
queen’s permission to suspend Parliament,
in an apparent attempt to halt debate over
As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports,
that move led to dozens of demonstrations
over the weekend.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Members of Boris Johnson’s
Cabinet were summoned to his Downing Street
residence for an emergency session.
He told them he’s optimistic of getting concessions
from Europe, so that Britain can leave on
October the 31st with a deal.
But his plans are being threatened by an opposition
bill due to be tabled by the Labor leader,
Jeremy Corbyn, tomorrow.
With demonstrators jeering in the background,
the prime minister urged his party to back
BORIS JOHNSON, British Prime Minister: But
if there’s one thing that can hold us back
in these talks, it is the sense in Brussels
that M.P.s may find some way to cancel the
referendum or that, tomorrow, M.P.s will vote
with Jeremy Corbyn for yet another pointless
I don’t think they will.
I hope that they won’t.
But, if they do, they will plainly chop the
legs out from under the U.K. position and
make any further negotiation absolutely impossible.
MALCOLM BRABANT: The implied threat was that,
if the government fails to defeat the bill
in Parliament tomorrow, he will seek a general
BORIS JOHNSON: I don’t want an election.
You don’t want an election.
Let’s get on with the people’s agenda.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Johnson spent the weekend
war-gaming with his closest advisers at his
official retreat, Chequers, after he decided,
controversially, to suspend Parliament for
His ultimatum is a response to plans outlined
by Labor’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer.
SIR KEIR STARMER, Brexit Spokesperson, Labor
Party: The legislation is simple and straightforward,
the purpose of which is to ensure that, if
we get to the 31st of October without a deal,
we do not crash out.
There’s no mandate from the referendum for
crashing out without a deal, nor is there
a mandate from Parliament for that.
So, actually, Boris Johnson has no mandate
for this at all.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Two opinion polls conducted
in recent days indicate that Boris Johnson
is gaining support for his tough stance.
Despite the resistance to the suspension of
Parliament, one of those polls suggests that
Johnson would win a general election.
He’s buoyed by reactions like this from businesswoman
Kindi Kaur, a Conservative supporter.
She’s from Gravesend, a district east of London
that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.
KINDI KAUR, Brexit Supporter: I think Boris
has done a fantastic tactical move here to
make everyone pull their acts together and
give us a good deal.
Otherwise, thank you very much.
We’re leaving, whether you like it or not.
And we are strong enough to survive this.
MALCOLM BRABANT: The shockwaves of Boris Johnson’s
nuclear option to suspend Parliament have
There may not have been thousands on the queen’s
doorstep at Windsor Castle, but the symbolism
PROTESTERS: Stop the coup!
Stop the coup!
ZOE BINNIE, Protest Organizer: I think this
is a British coup.
It’s very polite, it’s very unassuming.
And that’s the worst thing.
It’s very quiet.
They slip things through the door.
Before we know, we have accepted things that
we didn’t realize were going to happen.
MALCOLM BRABANT: The precise verb to suspend
Parliament is prorogue.
The prime minister insists it’s a standard
procedure, leaving ample time for lawmakers
to debate Brexit.
But protesters don’t believe him.
CLAIRE PATON, Teacher: It’s the most vital
time in our recent history, and he’s just
shut everybody up.
He’s shut everybody out, so he can force through
what the vocal minority of people want, which
is a no-deal Brexit.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Architect Matthew Taylor
is concerned that Johnson is flouting the
conventions of Britain’s unwritten constitution.
MATTHEW TAYLOR, Architect: In the past, it’s
relied lots of trust and good faith, a belief
that the people in charge are doing the right
But if they switch to not doing it, it’s very
easy to start abusing a system like that,
because there aren’t enough checks and balances
MALCOLM BRABANT: Another reason for staging
the protest here.
Just opposite the queen’s favorite pad in
Windsor lies Eton.
The very name exudes privilege in class-obsessed
That Ivy-est of Ivy League schools, Eton College,
is where Britain’s royals and upper crust
send their heirs to learn about gaining and
It’s produced 20 British prime ministers,
including the latest, Boris Johnson.
PROTESTERS: Hey, ho, Boris Johnson has to
ANGUS CAMERON, Chairman, Windsor Labor Party:
The idiot that got schooled just down the
road has in one or two weeks destroyed everything.
We are supposed to be the home place of democracy.
CRAIG MACKINLAY, British Parliament Member:
This has got nothing to do with outrage about
This is all to do with trying to stop Brexit.
And it’s not going to work.
MALCOLM BRABANT: Craig Mackinlay is a leading
member of a hardcore conservative group of
known as the Spartans.
They helped depose the previous prime minister,
Theresa May, because they thought she wasn’t
tough enough on Brexit.
Mackinlay defends Parliament’s suspension
as normal, and applauds Johnson’s push for
a better Brexit deal from Europe.
CRAIG MACKINLAY: Everybody goes to look at
new houses, new cars.
You don’t go into that showroom to buy a new
car and saying, I’m not leaving here until
I buy it.
If you’re not getting the deal you want, the
price you want and the extras you want, you
So what Prime Minister Johnson has done is
trying to get that no-deal threat back on
the table, because only if you have that no-deal
threat, in my view, have you got any chance
of getting a deal that would be acceptable.
MALCOLM BRABANT: There are fears that a no-deal
Brexit would cause hold ups at ports like
The government has promised there will be
no food shortages.
But Matthew Taylor is not convinced.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: If anything, civil unrest
is likely to start when there are food shortages
Only a few months ago, we had people phoning
the police because KFC ran out of chicken.
So, if people are going to react like that
about that, their idea of this Blitz spirit,
where they all kind of survive on homegrown
vegetables, it’s not going to happen.
MALCOLM BRABANT: They’re not starving just
yet, but there’s increasing worry, in picture-postcard
Britain, that the country’s destiny is about
to change forever.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant