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 separation deal to a new vote unless it was re-submitted in a fundamentally different form.
In comments that blindsided May’s office, Speaker John Bercow said the government could not bring forward proposals for a vote in Parliament that were substantially the same as had already been defeated twice before, in January and last week.
“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 … this would be entirely in order,” Bercow said.
“What the government cannot legitimately do is to resubmit to the House [of Commons] the same proposition or substantially the same proposition as that of last week which was rejected by 149 votes.”
The ruling put the UK in a difficult place – Brexiteers seeking a complete break from the European Union saw a “no-deal” exit as now more likely while others thought May might put off Brexit beyond the set March 29 departure date, if the EU approves.
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. But the government has rejected that.
“The Government has no plans to prorogue parliament and remains committed to delivering an orderly exit from the EU in line with its pledge to deliver on the outcome of the referendum,” it said Monday.
Maddy Thimont Jack, a researcher at the Institute for Government in London, said that while Bercow’s decision clearly frustrates Theresa May’s initial plans to bring a third ” meaningful vote” back to parliament this week, it does not prevent her doing so.
“Essentially what he is trying to say is ‘Look what you have done has not got a majority, it has been roundly rejected twice, you need to try something else this time’,” she told Al Jazeera.
However, Thimont Jack believes May can still secure a vote by having MPs pass a “paving motion” to get round Bercow’s ruling that simply states that they now wish to vote on the deal.
“If there is will in the House, if MPs want to vote for it, I don’t think Bercow is going to get in the way of that, that’s not his role and that would be quite a significant issue,” said Thimont Jack.
Bercow’s pronouncement appeared to take May’s Downing Street office by surprise.
May’s spokesman said her office had not been warned the statement was coming. Nor could Downing Street say anything about plans for a new Brexit vote or when it might be held.
Sterling dropped below $1.32 with investors saying it had damaged May’s already sagging prospects of getting her EU withdrawal agreement ratified by parliament before March 29.
EU leaders have ruled out renegotiating the exit deal.
As it stands, Britain is due to leave the EU by default in 11 days. But Parliament voted last week for a delay and May is expected to seek an extension to that deadline when she meets EU leaders at a summit on Thursday. – Al Jazeera.