Just when it seemed Brexit could not get any more shambolic, Speaker John Bercow’s dramatic intervention has left Theresa May in a political pickle ahead of the UK’s intended departure date nexta week on Friday.
After suffering the humiliating defeat of her deal in the Commons by an unprecedented 230 votes in January and seeing it rejected again last week by 149 votes, the Prime Minister was widely expected to bring it back to parliament for a third “meaningful vote” this week and, if that didn’t work, possibly a fourth just days before the March 29 Brexit deadline.
At the weekend senior UK ministers were saying she might not go for “MV 3” this week if she could not be sure of winning it.
But the Speaker’s ruling on Monday afternoon – that she cannot bring back the motion in the same session unless it is substantially different – took the matter out of her hands and put a spoke in Mrs May’s cunning plan to keep on asking MPs to back her deal until she wears them down.
Some Brexiteers welcomed the ruling and said Mrs May must now go back and demand further concessions from Brussels – even though the EU has made clear the withdrawal agreement is closed and no longer negotiable.
Others believe if the Prime Minister’s deal is no longer to be considered, it increases the likelihood of no deal – even though MPs signalled in a non-binding vote that it should be taken off the table.
Meanwhile pundits have suggested Mrs May could get round the ruling by asking the Queen to prorogue parliament for a day or even an hour, bringing to an end the current session of parliament without dissolving it so it would then be a new session and the Government could bring back the same motion.
Less farcically, one procedural expert said Mrs May could put down a paving motion to set aside the rules in this particular circumstance – but she would need a majority to do so, which might not be any easier than getting a majority for the deal.
The Prime Minister is due to go to a European summit on Thursday to ask EU leaders for an extension to the March 29 Brexit deadline. If she had managed to get the deal passed by then, it was going to be a request for a short “technical” extension to allow all the necessary legislation to be passed. Otherwise, it was said, the EU might well insist on a much longer delay – perhaps by as much as two years. And Brexiteers feared that could mean Brexit never happening at all.
Up until the Speaker’s statement yesterday afternoon, it seemed the Brexit scenario outlined by chief UK negotiator Olly Robbins in a late-night conversation overheard in a Brussels bar five weeks ago was playing out just as predicted. He was heard saying MPs would be given a last-minute choice between Mrs May’s deal or a long delay.
In the hours before the Speaker’s intervention, the Prime Minister was trying to win over the DUP and those efforts reportedly included offers of both extra funding for Northern Ireland and a role in negotiations on future trade relations. That rightly prompted immediate demands that Scotland too should be given a role in trade talks. The devolved governments have been allowed precious influence on the Brexit process so far.
But the whole saga has now hit this new hurdle and everything seems to be up in the air once more.