UK Speaker John Bercow deals new blow to May’s Brexit plan

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 18, 2019 Published on March 18, 2019

John Bercow tells PM that she must change her plan to get another vote

Plans by the British Prime Minister Theresa May to potentially put her controversial withdrawal deal to MPs this week or next suffered two significant blows, amid further signs that she would still struggle to convince enough MPs to support her. The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow made a surprise statement confirming that the same question could not be put to the House of Commons repeatedly during the same session.

While he said that his statement was not intended to be the “final word,” on the issue, it indicated that this was the rule the government will have to meet if it were to bring the deal back to Parliament. It means the deal is unlikely to be put to MPs this week ahead of a meeting of the European Council later this week. May had hoped to put the withdrawal deal to MPs before that meeting to be able to show to the EU that progress had been made, and potentially sway them to make further concessions or clarifications, despite insistence from the EU that the deal on the table was the only one available.

House decisions

“Decisions of the House matter. They have weight. They have direct effects not only here but also on the lives of our constituents” Bercow told MPs in response to several questions that had been put to him in the past by parliamentary colleagues about whether the government could repeatedly put what was essentially the “same fundamental proposition” to them again and again.

Quoting from Erskine May, the 19th century originator of parliamentary practice and rules, Bercow said the second vote on the withdrawal agreement earlier this month had been permissible because the deal on offer had been substantially different to what had been voted on in January. It followed legally binding changes that had been made after a meeting in Strasbourg between May and European Council President Jean Claude Juncker. However, the deal, if put to a vote again would have to meet the same criteria, he told MPs on Monday afternoon, in a surprise development that could stand in the way not only of a vote this week, but also one next week.

While May had been expected to lose the vote this week, there has been much speculation that she could return to the House of Commons to attempt to put the deal to MPs once again next week, just days before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29. While MPs last week voted to delay Brexit — either till June 30 or potentially longer — a delay can only happen if the EU agrees to it, and they’ve indicated that this would only happen if there were credible justification for it.

The Speaker’s intervention potentially puts a spanner in the works of what May’s critics believe is a strategy of trying to bulldoze MPs to support the deal. The government has been in intense talks with a number of parties, including the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who have been vocally critical of the Irish backstop — the arrangements in place to ensure that were future talks between the EU and the UK to fail, no hard border would develop on the island of Ireland. Some critics of May appeared to waver — such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chair of the European Research Group, who told LBC radio that while no deal was better than a bad deal, a bad deal was “better than staying in the EU.”

However, other Brexiteers, such as Boris Johnson, remain adamantly opposed. Johnson in an article in the Daily Telegraph urged MPs not to back May’s deal, and urged her to return to Brussels and push for changes to the backstop arrangements before putting it to MPs again.

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Published on March 18, 2019
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