May's Brexit deal in chaos as Bercow blocks new vote

March 19, 2019 08:50
With Parliament Speaker John Bercow raising objections to the modalities of a new Brexit divorce deal vote, Theresa May's government has been caught off guard. Photo: Reuters

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans were thrown into further turmoil on Monday when the speaker of parliament ruled that she could not put her divorce deal to a new vote unless it is re-submitted in fundamentally different form, Reuters reports.

In comments that blindsided May’s office, Speaker John Bercow was quoted as saying that the government cannot bring forward proposals for a vote in parliament that were substantially the same as had been defeated twice before, in January and last week.

One of the government’s senior law officers, Solicitor General Robert Buckland, said: “We’re in a major constitutional crisis here.”

He told the BBC that one way to bring May’s deal back for a vote in the House of Commons could be prorogation - ending the parliament session prematurely and starting a new one.

According to precedents stretching back to 1604, parliamentary rules say that substantially similar proposals cannot be voted on in the House of Commons more than once during the same session of parliament.

Bercow said his ruling should not be considered his last word and that the government can bring forward a new proposition that was not the same as those already voted upon.

“This is my conclusion: if the government wishes to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same, nor substantially the same, as that disposed of by the House on the 12th of March, this would be entirely in order,” Bercow said.

“What the government cannot legitimately do is to resubmit to the House the same proposition or substantially the same proposition as that of last week which was rejected by 149 votes.”

The ruling was welcomed by eurosceptic lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party because it appeared to increase the likelihood of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

May’s Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU last year was seen by Brexiteers as leaving Britain too closely aligned to the EU while depriving it of voting rights in the bloc.

“May I say how delighted I am that you have decided to follow precedent, which is something I am greatly in favor of,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of eurosceptics in parliament.

However Kwasi Kwarteng, a Brexit minister, told parliament the government intends to seek an extension to the Brexit departure deadline, which he expects the EU to decide on at a summit this week.

The head of the 2016 referendum campaign to leave the EU, Matthew Elliott, said he expects lawmakers to “see sense” and pass May’s deal by March 29.

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