Frank Langfitt | KUER 90.1

Frank Langfitt

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.

Langfitt arrived in London in June, 2016. A week later, the UK voted for Brexit. He's been busy ever since, covering the political battles over just how the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. Langfitt also frequently appears on the BBC, where he tries to explain American politics, which is not easy.

Previously, Langfitt spent five years as an NPR correspondent covering China. Based in Shanghai, he drove a free taxi around the city for a series on a changing China as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. As part of the series, Langfitt drove passengers back to the countryside for Chinese New Year and served as a wedding chauffeur. He has expanded his reporting into a book, The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China (Public Affairs, Hachette), which is out in June 2019.

While in China, Langfitt also reported on the government's infamous black jails — secret detention centers — as well as his own travails taking China's driver's test, which he failed three times.

Before moving to Shanghai, Langfitt was NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi. He reported from Sudan, covered the civil war in Somalia, and interviewed imprisoned Somali pirates, who insisted they were just misunderstood fishermen. During the Arab Spring, Langfitt covered the uprising and crushing of the reform movement in Bahrain.

Prior to Africa, Langfitt was NPR's labor correspondent based in Washington, DC. He covered the 2008 financial crisis, the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, and coal mine disasters in West Virginia.

In 2008, Langfitt also covered the Beijing Olympics as a member of NPR's team, which won an Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting. Langfitt's print and visual journalism have also been honored by the Overseas Press Association and the White House News Photographers Association.

Before coming to NPR, Langfitt spent five years as a correspondent in Beijing for The Baltimore Sun, covering a swath of Asia from East Timor to the Khyber Pass.

Langfitt spent his early years in journalism stringing for the Philadelphia Inquirer and living in Hazard, Kentucky, where he covered the state's Appalachian coalfields for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Prior to becoming a reporter, Langfitt dug latrines in Mexico and drove a taxi in his hometown of Philadelphia. Langfitt is a graduate of Princeton and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

Voters in the United Kingdom head to the polls Thursday for a crucial election that could determine the country's future, and how and when it will break off from the European Union.

This will be the fifth major vote in the country in less than five years — including two previous general elections, European Parliament elections and the Brexit referendum — a sign of how chaotic British politics have become.

The stakes are high, voters are weary and the two main candidates for prime minister are especially polarizing.

The European Union and the United Kingdom reached a new Brexit agreement on Thursday, and while it appeared to mark a big breakthrough in the years-long process, the saga doesn't end here.

The withdrawal deal still needs approval in both the U.K. and European parliaments. Although EU leaders unanimously endorsed it in Brussels on Thursday, it faces stiff opposition in Britain's Parliament, which has voted down three previous Brexit deals.

The U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31.

Frank Langfitt (@franklangfitt) is NPR's international correspondent in London and was previously based in Shanghai, China. His new book is The Shanghai Free Taxi.

The United Kingdom is headed for another showdown next month over Brexit, an issue that has paralyzed British politics for several years and ended the careers of the two previous prime ministers.

This year, Parliament thrice defeated a U.K. withdrawal agreement that then-Prime Minister Theresa May's government had negotiated with the European Union. Parliament reconvenes on Sept. 3.

Here are some of the key challenges facing Boris Johnson, the new prime minister, who has vowed to take the U.K. out of the European Union one way or another on Oct. 31.

Britain would face gridlock at ports; shortages of medicine, fuel and food; and a hard border with Ireland if it left the European Union with no deal, according to a leaked government document.

At a time of polarization and political chaos, the United Kingdom and the United States are about to be led by two remarkably similar figures. On Tuesday, Britain's ruling Conservative Party elected Boris Johnson as their leader by an overwhelming margin, sending him to No. 10 Downing Street. He will take office on Wednesday.

When the Mail on Sunday published private assessments of the White House from the British ambassador to the United States, President Trump expressed outrage.

In a leaked cable, Ambassador Kim Darroch called the White House "inept" and "incompetent" and said the president "radiates insecurity." Trump called Darroch "stupid" and said he wouldn't deal with him.

Boris Johnson is a larger-than-life British politician who likes to project the image of a bumbling, fun-loving man of the people.

His many supporters in Britain's Conservative Party find him charismatic, entertaining and — to their minds — refreshingly politically incorrect.

Many critics, however, see him as unprincipled, offensive and driven wholly by ambition.

The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom may not feel very special at the moment. President Trump's three-day visit to the U.K. got off to a rocky start on Monday, when he launched a Twitter attack on London Mayor Sadiq Khan as Air Force One was preparing to land.

British voters are expected to deliver a humiliating defeat to Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party in European Parliament elections on Thursday. Many who want Britain to pull out of the European Union are angry with May, who is under heavy pressure to resign, for failing to deliver on the Brexit referendum result nearly three years ago.

When the United Kingdom voted for Brexit nearly three years ago, some thought it might mark the beginning of the end of the European Union. Some analysts warned the U.K. would be the first in a series of dominoes to fall and spoke of a possible "Frexit," "Nexit" and "Swexit."

Protesters demanding government action on climate change disrupted traffic and public transit around London on Wednesday, the third day of climate demonstrations in the capital.

"Are you angry?" yelled Will Grover, a councillor with Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party.

"Yes!" yelled back the mostly older crowd.

"You should be," said Grover, "because your voice, your vote, is being betrayed. They do not respect you. Why should you respect them?"

Brexit has convulsed the United Kingdom like no other political event in decades, but it can be hard to follow the day-to-day machinations. At the end of a chaotic week, here's what to know.

How different are things now for the U.K. than they were on Monday?

Updated Thursday at 9:38 a.m. ET

This week marks a turning point for Britain and Brexit. On Tuesday, the British Parliament voted down Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan for the second time. On Wednesday, lawmakers voted against a "no-deal Brexit" — leaving the European Union without a formal agreement with Brussels.

Today, they will vote on whether to postpone Brexit beyond the scheduled departure date of March 29.

Here's what you need to know.

What happened on Tuesday?

The Packhorse pub sits in the tiny village of South Stoke in the west of England amid rolling hills dotted with sheep. For more than a century and a half, it played a crucial role in the village and marked milestones in the lives of local families.

Gerard Coles, who was born half a mile from the pub and now brews cider nearby, started coming to the Packhorse when he was 15 and underage, sometimes with his school teacher for lunch.

Valentine's Day is usually a boon for florists. But in the United Kingdom, a cloud hangs over the industry.

Rosa Ashby, who runs Rosa Flowers in the English market town of Witney, is anxious. Every flower in her shop, including lilies, chrysanthemums and lisianthus, is either grown in or distributed through the Netherlands. That has worked just fine since Ashby started her business 22 years ago, because the U.K. has been inside the European Union's single market, and flowers — and countless other products — have flowed seamlessly across the border.

In the rush of digital news that washes over so many of us every day, it's hard to remember what a politician might have said or promised several weeks ago, let alone several years. Some activists in the United Kingdom have come up with an imaginative, seemingly old-fashioned solution to this modern-day problem.

They plan to put up at least 150 billboards across the U.K. quoting some of the promises and rosy predictions politicians made about Brexit in recent years so people can reconsider them amid the political chaos that has followed.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan went down to an historic defeat in Parliament on Tuesday. The next day, she narrowly survived a vote of no-confidence in her government. This Monday, Jan. 21, she'll have to tell Parliament what her Plan B for Brexit is — and will submit that plan to a vote on Jan. 29.

Here's what to know about key issues during this extraordinary and chaotic moment in British politics.

After Tuesday's staggering loss, most politicians would have resigned. Why is Theresa May still in office?

Norway's rugged west coast is home to glaciers, waterfalls and dozens of fjords that draw hordes of tourists each summer. But navigating the extreme topography of the region, which is home to a third of the country's population, isn't easy.

Not so long ago, staging another Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom seemed almost unthinkable. But in recent weeks, as calls have grown louder, the unthinkable has begun to seem plausible.

Last week, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said because of the current political chaos and future economic risks, the British should have another say on whether to leave the European Union if there are no other viable options.

The United Kingdom is embroiled in its biggest political crisis in decades. On Wednesday evening, members of Parliament in Prime Minister Theresa May's own Conservative Party are casting ballots in a no-confidence vote over her leadership. May needs to win a simple majority of votes from her party's parliamentarians to keep her job.

Here's what you need to know.

Why do members of the prime minister's own party want to sack her?

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This weekend marks a major step in Britain's more than two-year journey to leave the European Union. The EU's remaining 27 nations will vote on a divorce agreement with the United Kingdom. And for more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hi, Frank.

This week was one of the most chaotic in British politics in recent decades. After more than a year of negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May presented a Brexit withdrawal agreement from the European Union that seemed to unite British politicians across the spectrum in their hatred for it.

Under normal circumstances, America's midterm elections tend to elicit shrugs outside the U.S. The world usually focuses on U.S. elections when the president's name is on the ballot. But if you're an American overseas these days, you may be quizzed on what will happen in Tuesday's midterms.

Leslie Vinjamuri, an American political scientist who has lived in London for more than a dozen years, says in the run-up to this year's midterms, she has been getting questions every day.

It used to be that the Communist Party focused on censoring free speech primarily inside of China. In recent years, though, China's authoritarian government has tried to censor speech beyond its borders, inside liberal democracies, when speech contradicts the party's line on highly sensitive political issues, such as the status of Tibet and Taiwan. It's part of the party's grand strategy to change the way the world talks about China.

Back in 1979, Pope John Paul II arrived in Ireland to an outpouring of love, affection and enormous crowds, including an estimated 1.2 million people for a Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park. Among the faithful that day was Carmel Malone.

Nearly four decades later, Malone's daughters brought her in a wheelchair to watch Pope Francis pass through downtown Dublin on Saturday. This time, the crowds were far sparser — only one deep in some places — and there were even some boos from victims of clerical sexual abuse who protested along the road.

When millions of people tune in Saturday morning for the British royal wedding, there will be talk of fairy tales and plenty of cinematic shots of Prince Harry and his bride, Meghan Markle, riding in a horse-drawn carriage past thousands of cheering fans with the turrets of Windsor Castle in the background.

But beyond the pageantry and royal stagecraft at which the British excel, there is a genuine story about a changing Britain, a complicated American family, a resilient monarchy and the redemption of a wayward prince.

Winters in London can be damp and dreary. The British capital sits at 51.5 degrees latitude north – roughly equivalent to the Canadian city of Calgary – and in December, the British capital can descend into darkness by 4:30 p.m.

When it comes to tourism, Ireland punches well above its weight.

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