The UK’s Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has blocked a third meaningful vote into Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Citing parliamentary procedure dating back to 1604 and listed in Erskine-May, the official treatise of parliamentary authority in the UK first published in 1884, Bercow said yesterday he would not allow a third “meaningful vote” on the same withdrawal agreement to be put to the House of Commons without “demonstrable change”. In full, the 1604 ruling referred to by Bercow states: “That a question being once made, and carried in the affirmative or negative, cannot be questioned again, but must stand as a judgement of the House.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant tabled an amendment which would have prevented a third meaningful vote under the same rule to last week’s Article 50 extension vote, but withdrew the amendment before it could be voted on by MPs.
In a parliamentary debate over his amendment, Bryant said: “This ruling has been repeated many, many times. On 30 June 1864, Sir John Pakington wanted to give more money to nursery schools—hurrah! On 17 May 1870, Mr Torrens wanted to relieve poverty by enabling the poor to emigrate to the colonies. On 9 May 1882, Henry Labouchère wanted to allow MPs to declare, rather than swear, an oath so as to take their seats. On 27 January 1891, Mr Leng wanted to limit railway workers’ very long hours. On 21 May 1912—this one would probably have the support of every Member—George Lansbury wanted to allow women to vote. On every single occasion, the Speaker[s]—Speaker Brand, Speaker Peel, Speaker Denison and Speaker Lowther—said: ‘No, you can’t, because we’ve already decided that in this Session of Parliament.’ That is why I believe the Government should not have the right to bring back exactly the same, or substantially the same, measure again and again as they are doing.”
Before Bercow announced his intention to block a third meaningful vote, it was assumed the vote would take place this week: UK Chancellor Philip Hammond met with representatives of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party over the weekend to request their support for May’s withdrawal agreement; while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed measured support for the Kyle amendment, which would have been attached to the motion and which would allow a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Had the vote failed to pass for a third time, May had raised the possibility of a fourth vote.
A number of MPs expressed outrage at Bercow’s refusal to allow a third vote on the basis that, while they had voted against the withdrawal agreement twice already, they may have voted in favour of the deal this time. May’s spokesperson said the Speaker had not informed the Prime Minister’s office of his decision before he made his statement yesterday; Downing Street’s official response to Bercow’s statement, in full, was: “We note the Speaker’s statement. This is something that requires proper consideration.”
After MPs voted last week to extend Article 50 and push back the official date of Brexit – currently still set at 29 March – the Prime Minister will request an extension of at least three months from the other 27 EU leaders this week. It is believed the EU27 will push for a longer extension, possibly to allow time for a second referendum; which would necessitate the UK’s participation in the forthcoming EU elections.
UK Solicitor General Robert Buckland said that the UK was now in a “constitutional crisis”; though it is arguable that this has been the case for some time. Buckland noted that the Prime Minister could circumvent Bercow’s ruling by proroguing Parliament – dissolving the current session of Parliament and beginning a new one – as the ruling only applies to motions brought repeatedly before the same session.