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British Politics Remain In Upheaval After Brexit Vote


The uncertainty about Britain's future just keeps growing since last week's vote to leave the European Union. The political parties are a mess. Conservatives want to replace their leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, sooner rather than later. The opposition Labour Party is escalating pressure on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to step down. And all the while, Britain is holding off on formally starting the process of divorce from the EU.

To run down where things stand, NPR's Peter Kenyon starts us off from London. And Peter, adding to the instability, the British currency is still down. Markets are shaky. S&P just stripped the U.K. of its AAA credit rating. What are the politicians doing to try to calm this situation?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, there was this early morning reassurance, Robert, from the chancellor of the exchequer, Mr. George Osborne. He's basically the treasury secretary over here. And he said it's a very strong economy; don't worry. Of course he spoke before Standard and Poor's downgraded the U.K.'s last remaining AAA credit rating, and the agency warned more downgrades could be coming.

Nonetheless, the common refrain here is that nothing is changing immediately. In other words, all the EU citizens who work here, the Britons living in Europe are not going to see any changes in their status until these negotiations on the exit are finished. They, of course, haven't started, and they could take two years.

Prime Minister Cameron was also talking today about how he's going to Brussels tomorrow. He has to talk to the European Commission about all this. Cameron did say in Parliament that nobody is going to rush the British government into starting these talks before it's ready. Here's what he said.


DAVID CAMERON: And I'll make this again at the European Council tomorrow. Mr. Speaker, this is our sovereign decision, and it will be for Britain and Britain alone to take. Tomorrow is also an opportunity to make this point. Britain is leaving the European Union, but we must not turn our back on Europe or on the rest of the world.


KENYON: Cameron also had some strong comments on these reports we've been getting of racist incidents around the country involving Poles, people of color being harassed, told to go home now that this vote has been taken. He said such behavior can't be tolerated. It's got to be stamped out.

SIEGEL: Peter, I mentioned Jeremy Corbyn earlier, the leader of the Labour Party. He's had a rough couple of days, hasn't he?

KENYON: Very rough, Robert (laughter). He was there in Parliament today. He was surrounded by his former leadership. Many of them have resigned their jobs in something called the shadow cabinet.

SIEGEL: Yeah. This is where the opposition party has a shadow foreign secretary, a shadow chancellor of the exchequer. They would presumably take over if that party won the next election.

KENYON: Exactly, a kind of opposition cabinet that people can look at and judge. And they all resigned because they want Corbyn out and a new leader in because of this crisis. Corbyn condemned all the plotting against him. He said he's not going anywhere.

This Labour Party meltdown, though, did give Prime Minister David Cameron a chance to indulge his sense of humor. He took a moment to welcome the brand new Labour MP from South London, by far the most junior member of the party. And he warned her that the way things are going, she might be promoted sooner than she expects. Here's how he put it.


CAMERON: I think I'd advise her to keep her mobile phone on. She might be in the shadow cabinet by the end of the day.


SIEGEL: I want you to tell us about the sense we're getting, Peter - confusion and anger among British voters. How many campaign promises have now been abandoned? Can you tell?

KENYON: Well, basically all the biggest ones, all the ones everyone was talking about during the campaign. Three-hundred-fifty-million pounds a week for the National Health Service - nope, not happening. Strict controls on the borders, stop EU immigration - probably not if Britain wants to keep access to the EU single market and these ideal trade deals that were promised if the U.K. leaves the EU. All these things are now being walked back.

But it's not just them. On the remain side, I have to add, there's big warning of big, emergency budget cuts. That's also suddenly been forgotten.

SIEGEL: Secretary of State John Kerry was in both Brussels and London today. Did Kerry shed any new light on the American perspective on what's happened?

KENYON: There were no new initiatives, but he did offer a general feeling of support and solidarity. He managed to quote Winston Churchill, in fact, about facing challenges together and moving forward. And he did add an American voice to those calling for people to just keep calm. Let this unprecedented process play out.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in London. Thanks, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.