The House of Commons’ Speaker John Bercow was right to rule that MPs could not vote for a second time on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, but he now needs to be consistent and prevent another vote on a second EU referendum, writes Brian Monteith.
Before I write anything more I would first like to apologise to readers that yet again I’m writing about Brexit. I had originally intended to write about the poor quality of our current crop of politicians. I thought I might discuss how dim and naïve so many appear to be and why we should expect better standards, not just in behaviour but in levels of intelligence and most importantly, judgement.
I thought I might explain that it is scandalous that many elected MPs, MSPs and councillors do not know the difference between the annual deficit in their public spending and the public debt it generates. How can they not realise that from their own personal spending that if they live beyond their means – spending more than they earn – the excess (or deficit) adds up each month or year cumulatively to increase their total debt?
I might have also considered how even party leaders do not understand how our pension system works, but think there is some great pot of national savings that feeds the pensions payments every week or month. There is no such pot. Pensions are paid out of current revenues and always have been. People earning and paying taxes now are meeting today’s pensions costs. Today’s pensioners who contributed in their working lives might have thought their National Insurance stamp was a savings scheme, but they were either misled or wrong – their contributions in the 60s and 70s were meeting the costs of the pensioners of that time. Yet still the myth of a state pension pot is perpetuated by politicians.
I had some other examples of the unbelievable foolishness of today’s politicians to regale you with but then the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, rose to make a hugely important announcement about the procedures for agreeing how we might leave the European Union – and hey presto! I had to write about Brexit again.
I could have ignored it, of course, but such was the importance of his announcement that it required some consideration. After all I have written on the matter over the last three years I could hardly ignore it.
Let me say firstly that Bercow is right to rule that MPs should not have to face debating a proposal from the government again, if they have already defeated it.
I believe Bercow was in the right to allow the second meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement because there were enough changes for him to rule they were substantive – but only just. To allow a third meaningful vote when there are no further substantive changes would be wrong. It would give (and indeed has given) the Government the opportunity to bully and blackmail MPs into supporting the Withdrawal Agreement against their better judgement.
That is not a good way to make laws, never mind this Withdrawal Agreement, which will become an international treaty that we cannot amend or escape from in future.
What is now important, however, is that Bercow is consistent in any further rulings going forward. If a motion that is not substantially different cannot be debated again, so too must it apply to amendments that are not substantively different (and Erskine May, the Commons’ rule book, says as much). A second referendum has already been voted down and should not come before the House again.
Everybody knows that Speaker Bercow is biased; he has told us he voted remain and he broke with precedent to allow arch-remainer Dominic Grieve to bring forward an amendment that gave advantage to those wishing to reverse the Brexit decision.
While Bercow has made an entirely correct decision there is every chance that he has further rulings in mind that will seek to scupper the whole Brexit process. He must resist such temptation or release a level of public anger I cannot begin to contemplate.