LONDON: House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has scuppered any chance of another Commons vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal before Thursday’s EU summit.
Bercow ruled that the Prime Minister cannot bring her EU Withdrawal Agreement back before MPs unless it is substantially different from the package which was decisively defeated last week.
The Speaker’s ruling, announced in an unexpected statement to the Commons, throws a further obstacle in the way of the Prime Minister’s scramble to get a deal agreed by the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29.
Downing Street has indicated that May will not table a motion on a third “meaningful vote” ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels unless there is a realistic prospect of securing a majority in the Commons.
If no vote takes place over the coming days, she is expected to ask the leaders of the remaining 27 EU members for a lengthy extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process, delaying Brexit for months or even years beyond March 29.
The Prime Minister had been expected to then make a last-ditch attempt to get her deal through the Commons next week, effectively presenting MPs with a choice between the Withdrawal Agreement which they have already rejected twice, or a long wait for Brexit.
But Bercow’s ruling could make that plan impossible, unless May is able to negotiate some change to her deal before presenting it once more to MPs. There was no immediate response from Downing Street to the statement by Bercow.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Speaker did not warn us of the contents of the statement or indeed the fact that he was making one.”Solicitor General Robert Buckland said the government was facing a “major constitutional crisis” and that Bercow’s intervention would have “huge reverberations” for the Brexit process.
He suggested ministers may need to prorogue Parliament and call a new session in order to get round the ruling. “There are ways around this,” he told BBC News.“Frankly we could have done without this. Now we have this ruling to deal with, it is clearly going to require a lot of very fast but very deep thought in the hours ahead.”
The Speaker cited the Commons rulebook Erskine May as he set out a convention dating back to 1604 that a defeated motion cannot be brought back in the same form during the course of a parliamentary session.
He said it was within the rules for a second vote to be held on the Withdrawal Agreement in March, because it had been substantially revised — including by the addition of three new documents — since its defeat by 230 votes in January.