John Bercow causes 'major constitutional crisis' by blocking third vote on unchanged Brexit deal: Brexit News for Tuesday 19 March

John Bercow causes 'major constitutional crisis' by blocking third vote on unchanged Brexit deal: Brexit News for Tuesday 19 March
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John Bercow causes ‘major constitutional crisis’ by blocking third vote on unchanged Brexit deal…

John Bercow has plunged Britain into a “major constitutional crisis” after banning Theresa May from holding a third vote on her Brexit deal, the Solicitor General has said. The Speaker – a Remain voter who has faced repeated accusations of anti-Brexit bias – invoked a convention last used 99 years ago to stop the vote taking place. His unexpected announcement was greeted with fury in the Commons, as ministers accused him of being “interventionalist” and failing to “respect” MPs. With just 10 days to go until Brexit day, Mrs May is weighing her options to get round the Speaker’s ruling. The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, said the decision would have “huge reverberations” for the Brexit process and said the Prime Minister could now ask the Queen to cut short the current Parliamentary session and start again. Mrs May had hoped Parliament would approve her Brexit deal before she attends a meeting of EU leaders on Thursday, allowing her to ask for a short extension to Article 50, but with her strategy in tatters she is now expected to request a much longer extension of up to two years. The latest twist was greeted with disbelief in Brussels, which could now delay a decision on granting an Article 50 extension until “one hour before” Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29. – Telegraph (£)

  • John Bercow rules Theresa May cannot bring her deal back for third time unless something has changed – Independent
  • John Bercow’s ruling on third vote could scupper Theresa May’s Brexit deal – The Times (£)

> WATCH: John Bercow’s Commons statement yesterday

…with hardline Brexiteers getting behind Bercow’s bid to block May’s deal

MPs seeking a hard Brexit have welcomed the Speaker’s decision to block another identical vote on Theresa May’s deal and said that they would rather face a long delay in leaving the European Union than endorse it. Members of the European Research Group (ERG) stiffened their resolve to oppose the prime minister’s deal despite her warning them that she would seek the “longest extension possible” to Article 50 when she meets EU leaders this week. Senior figures in the ERG believe they stand more chance of dictating the direction of Brexit if the exit day is pushed back by nine months or more. Britain is due to leave on March 29. Fewer than half of Tory MPs voted to extend Article 50 last week so the legislation that would be needed for an extension would pass only by relying on Labour votes. This, Brexiteers said, would mean the “daily degradation” of Mrs May in parliament, which would trigger a “rolling Tory succession crisis”. It would put Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, and Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, in prime position to succeed her and attempt to negotiate the much harder Brexit the ERG wants. – The Times (£)

European leaders ready to grant Theresa May an Article 50 extension…

The European Union is ready to take the decision to delay Brexit hours before Britain crashes out at midnight on March 29 amid “political chaos” in Westminster. Diplomatic notes written for European leaders before a summit on Thursday indicate that the EU is deeply pessimistic that Theresa May can win parliamentary support for her Brexit deal. The notes were written before the Commons Speaker John Bercow told MPs that the prime minister cannot put her withdrawal deal before parliament for a third time without substantial changes. The EU expects the prime minister to write a letter on Wednesday to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, asking for an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal procedure to avoid a no-deal Brexit in 11 days’ time. “She will seek a short, technical, extension, if there is a positive vote on Tuesday and a ‘long’ extension in the event of a negative vote, without excluding the possibility of an extremely difficult fourth meaningful vote next week after the summit,” said one diplomatic note. – The Times (£)

  • EU could hand May lifeline with formal offer of new Brexit date – Guardian
  • Time is running out as talks begin on Article 50 extension – FT (£)

…with some suggesting May will ask for a one-year Brexit delay…

Speaker John Bercow said “b*ll*cks” to the British people by torpedoing Theresa May’s deal and forcing her to ask the EU to delay Brexit for up to a year. The shock ruling – a year after a row over a “Bollocks to Brexit” car sticker was spotted in his wife’s motor – sparked jubilation from Labour ‘Remainers’ pushing for a referendum. Amid scenes of chaos in Parliament, he said a third vote on her Brexit deal could only take place if the offer before MPs was “substantially” different. He signalled updated legal advice would not be enough. And arch Brexiteers pushing for ‘No Deal’ said it would give the PM “leverage” with the EU to push for more concessions. But it triggered uproar from Tory MPs and claims the PM could take the nuclear option of winding up Parliament altogether. Veteran Tory backbencher Alec Shelbrooke accused the Speaker – a self-confessed Remain voter – of trying to “kill Brexit” altogether. Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith’s desperate efforts to win round the DUP into backing Mrs May’s Brexit deal had already been on a knife edge before the Speaker’s bombshell intervention. But senior Government figures revealed that the Ulster unionists took fright at Mr Bercow’s ruling. And they said there is now “almost no chance” at getting an agreement with the DUP over the line before a crunch EU summit on Thursday. Instead, No10 sources said the PM was drawing up a letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk to make a formal request for the long delay, instructed by Parliament last week if her deal still hadn’t been passed by the Commons. But the PM will also ask Brussels for an escape clause to the delay – expected to be between nine and 12 months. – The Sun

…while others speak of a nine-month delay…

Nigel Dodds of the DUP has not yet agreed a deal with Theresa May to bring his troop of 10 MPs – and some of their Tory ERG Brexiter allies – into her camp for that momentous and precedent-smashing third “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal. This means as of now the third “meaningful vote” remains the stuff of myth and legend; as I said on Saturday, it may not happen at all, or at least not before the European Union council on Thursday. A minister close to the PM tells me the cabinet expects the EU to grant the UK a Brexit delay of nine months – which would of course require the UK to participate in May’s elections to the European Parliament. But here is the important point about this delay that this minister was desperate for me to know: “The nine months would be a maximum; if we ratified the Withdrawal Agreement at any point before the end of nine months, we could leave the EU much sooner”. You cannot imagine how my heart leapt as these assurances. Because what he was dangling in front of me was an almost unlimited number of meaningful votes to secure Brexit. – ITV News

…although diehard Tory Brexiteers threaten to ‘go on strike’ if May carries out vow to delay Brexit by a year

Hardline Tory Brexiteers have threatened Theresa May they will go on strike if she carries out her vow to delay Brexit by a year. No. 10 on Monday set a deadline of late on Tuesday for MPs to agree the PM’s exit deal before Thursday’s European summit. But instead of buckling to the pressure, diehard Tory MP Leavers raised the stakes back on the PM with a pledge to withdraw their cooperation. As many as 20 members of the hardline European Research Group have told whips they will carry out “vote strikes” – a move that would push Mrs May’s minority government to the verge of collapse. As Conservative tensions over Brexit reached boiling point around the PM’s ultimatum strategy, one senior Tory backbencher told The Sun: “If she tried to go ahead with a long extension, there will be vote strikes on all Government legislation. “She will lose us, and lose us permanently if she goes ahead with this, and that has been made crystal clear to her.” Staring down Mrs May in the ultra-high stakes game of bluff, ERG member Lee Rowley added: “The Prime Minister is going to have to reflect very carefully over the next few days. – The Sun

No Deal is better than a Brexit delay, say public as poll finds just one in 10 think PM’s deal honours referendum result

Nearly half of the British public is confident that the UK will ultimately thrive if it leaves the EU without a deal, according to a new poll. The exclusive ComRes survey for The Daily Telegraph found that 46 per cent of adults think leaving without a deal would “briefly cause some uncertainty but ultimately work out OK”, compared with 40 per cent who support extending Article 50. Three in 10 adults (30 per cent) think leaving the EU without a deal on March 29 will be the best possible outcome, according to the poll, compared with more than two in five who disagree (43 per cent). ComRes also asked on behalf of Leave Means Leave if taking no deal off the table has weakened our negotiating hand. Half (50 per cent) say yes, and 24 per cent no. Asked if Mrs May’s deal delivers Brexit, just 14 per cent say yes and 54 per cent no. Just 18 per cent believe it honours the referendum result, compared with 33 per cent who think it does not. Thirty seven per cent say in 2016 they expected to leave with no deal, while 20 per cent expected to leave with a withdrawal agreement. – Telegraph (£)

> Steven Edginton today on BrexitCentral: The case for a World Trade Brexit on 29th March is now stronger than ever

Ministers pulling out all the stops to win over DUP…

Government ministers have offered concessions in a last-minute attempt to persuade the Democratic Unionist Party to back Theresa May’s deal. Talks involving Philip Hammond, the chancellor, David Lidington, Mrs May’s deputy, and Julian Smith, the chief whip, took place throughout the weekend and continued into yesterday. Among the concessions that are understood to have been proposed by the government is an offer to scrap air passenger duty for flights originating in Northern Ireland. The tax has long been unpopular in the province, with business and politicians arguing that it puts Northern Ireland at a competitive disadvantage with the Republic, which does not impose the £13 standard ticket charge for short-haul flights. Ministers are also understood to have held detailed talks about introducing a so-called Stormont lock into UK law should the backstop come into effect. Under the lock, the government would not to be allowed to agree any divergence between British regulations and those in Northern Ireland during the backstop unless they had been signed off by politicians in Belfast. – The Times (£)

…but they are unlikely to back May’s Brexit deal before the European Council

The Democratic Unionist party is unlikely to strike an agreement with Theresa May’s government to support the current withdrawal deal before Thursday’s crunch meeting with EU leaders, sources said on Monday. With 11 days before the UK is due to leave the EU, the prime minister has been trying to convince the pro-Brexit party’s 10 MPs, who prop up her minority government, to back the Brexit deal she has agreed with the European Union. But following a day of intense talks involving ministers and the government’s most senior civil servant, party sources said it was “extremely unlikely” that any deal would be concluded before the European council meeting. “The reality is that practically, to get it signed off by all parties, we would have had to have a deal concluded by today to get it through before Thursday’s EU council,” said a source. It is a blow to the government, which hoped to gain the DUP’s support before EU leaders discuss the question of delaying Brexit at their regular European council meeting. If May’s deal had by then been approved by parliament, the government planned to request a short, technical delay of less than three months, to get the statute book ready. Senior DUP figures including Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds were locked in meetings on Monday with ministers including May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill. Previous meetings have involved the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and the chief whip, Julian Smith. Meetings are pencilled in to continue over the next two days. – Guardian

UK agrees £30bn agreement with Iceland and Norway

The UK’s Trade Secretary boosted no deal Brexit plans by announcing a new trade agreement with the two nations as the Government fights to replicate around 40 current EU trade deals before Brexit day. The new agreement means the UK will be able to trade freely with the two nations if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Dr Liam Fox tweeted on Monday evening: “BREAKING: Our negotiators have just initialled a trade agreement with Iceland & Norway for the European Economic Area. “This is the 2nd biggest agreement we’re rolling over and trade with EEA is worth nearly £30bn. “This is on top of the agreement we’ve signed with Liechtenstein.” The announcement follows Dr Fox issuing a thinly veiled warning to MPs who are threatening to vote down Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement. Discussing a third meaningul vote with Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday, the trade secretary said: “If we get a deal we will actually get all those deals rolled over. It will all happen if the Prime Minister’s deal is accepted. – Express

Tory MPs threaten to back second Brexit referendum which could betray 17.4m voters with May’s deal on the brink of collapse

Tory MPs yesterday warned they could back a second referendum on Brexit – in a last-ditch bid to save Theresa May’s deal. Remainers are now considering teaming up with opposition leaders to force through a co-called “people’s vote” which could overturn the 2016 referendum. The referendum would give the public a choice between leaving with the PM’s deal, or staying in the EU permanently. Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson have drawn up an amendment calling for a referendum which they hope to put to a vote as soon as possible. The pair have been meeting with Conservative backbenchers to lobby for their support. After seeing Mr Kyle this morning, Tory MP Huw Merriman tweeted: “If MPs will not back the deal then I am asking myself if #KyleWilson is the only option left to deliver #BrexitDeal.” Last night Antoinette Sandbach, another loyalist who has previously opposed a second referendum, also hinted she could change her mind. She blasted: “Having voted for the deal twice and been labelled a ‘traitor’ for doing so I am coming round to the argument we should see if reality lives up to the promises made to the electorate.” – The Sun

British spy chiefs look at the Brexit impasse with ‘despair’, Security Minister warns

Britain’s intelligence agencies look at the Brexit impasse with “despair,” the Security Minister warned yesterday as he pleaded with rebels to back Theresa May’s deal. Ben Wallace said spy chiefs “want us to get on with delivering a Brexit”. And he appeared to suggest intelligence agencies would be left with fewer resources if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. He has previously warned that a no deal Brexit would hit UK-EU cooperation and would have a “real impact” on protecting the public. Yesterday Mr Wallace told the Today programme: “This morning I will meet the intelligence services and I will meet the police and all the people who protect us. They want us to get on with delivering a Brexit , they are professionals and they are looking after our safety.” – The Sun

Anonymous Author: Believe me, the Civil Service is trying to sink Brexit. I have seen it from the inside

Should MPs vote again on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, it would be anything but delivering on the Brexit vote from two years ago. How would I know? Because I work within the heart of government. As a civil servant I can tell you large parts of the Whitehall machine are systematically working against leaving the EU. I have met thousands of civil servants in the past few years: I can only recall five who voted for Brexit. At first, I thought they were perhaps just staying quiet given the political climate, but my worst fear was confirmed during the high-profile remainer Gina Miller’s successful court case to make sure Parliament has a say on the Brexit outcome. When it was announced she had won her case, I witnessed large teams within the Foreign Office break out into cheers and applause. Seriously. A quick scroll though the social media accounts of my colleagues and you will find images of them proudly waving ‘Remain’ placards, campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’, boasting ‘Jez we can’ and of course the usual apocalyptic messages of doom since the Brexit vote. The double-standards are astonishing. If I so much as followed the activities of Nigel Farage, I have no doubt that I would be called in for questioning. I re-call one conversation with a senior member of staff at the Foreign Office who told me she was ashamed when Boris Johnson was appointed Foreign Secretary as he is so “typically British”. – Anonymous Author for the Telegraph (£)

Stephen Glover: The vanity of one deluded man must not be allowed to override the wishes of 17 million people

Has it come to this? In a modern democracy, can one vainglorious politician really be allowed to override the votes of 17.4million people? Even before Speaker John Bercow made his controversial ruling yesterday — preventing the Government from bringing back its deal to the Commons in its present form — this country was in a state of abject chaos. Now, for no reason other than the overweening vanity of a deluded man, this alarming state of affairs has suddenly got much worse. Where in God’s name do we go from here? What happens if Theresa May can’t put her proposal to the Commons this week, as she had hoped to do, had there been a reasonable chance of it passing at the third time of asking?  Will we, as everything falls apart, find ourselves leaving the EU on March 29 with No Deal — which few people want? It’s certainly possible. That is the law of the land as things stand, and March 29 is a mere ten days away. It’s certainly not Mrs May’s intention, but I am afraid power is being wrested from her grasp by other hands — not least John Bercow’s. Of course, No Deal is not what he wants either. He hopes to kill off her deal, and force her to go to the summit of EU leaders later this week begging for a longer extension of many months. – Daily Mail

Suella Braverman: Speaker Bercow has ensured the Government now has to improve its Brexit deal

Can people trust their politicians? That seemingly trite question will be tested over the next 10 days. As an MP who gave up my Ministerial job over the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement in November to vote against it twice, I am being pulled between conscience and surrender. Can I keep those promises that I made as a Leave campaigner of taking back control of our laws, striking free trade deals, controlling migration and escaping the subordination of the European Court of Justice? Pledges repeated by the PM herself and in the Conservative manifesto upon which we all stood? The vow that ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’? If I vote for the PM’s deal, I most definitely cannot keep any of those promises. Of that I am sure. The PM’s deal is not Brexit, or rather, it is a sham Brexit. Yes, we leave the institutions of the EU on March 29th but beyond that, Brexit evaporates. For the duration of the Implementation Period and its extension, ie until December 2022 (over 6 years after the Referendum), we will still be following EU laws, with no say whatsoever on them. Our courts will be bound by the ECJ and Free Movement will continue. – Suella Braverman MP for the Telegraph (£)

William Hague: Leave MPs must take responsibility for the horrors of a long Brexit delay

In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph, 23 Conservative MPs explained why they still wouldn’t vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, despite the alternative before them of a potentially lengthy delay to the whole idea. As long-standing supporters of leaving the EU, they said that their “moral course is clear”. They argued that it is not their fault that they are now confronted by what they regard as “two unacceptable choices” – a bad deal or a prolonged delay – “but it will be our fault if we cast a positive vote in favour of either for fear of the other”.  This statement has important implications and is also a fascinating argument. Its importance lies in what it means for the parliamentary arithmetic in the coming days, or however long it takes to propose a motion of sufficient difference for the Speaker to permit another vote. If at least 23 Tories will not vote for that deal under any circumstances, plus an additional number who refuse to do so for entirely opposing reasons, then it cannot conceivably pass without the support of at least 20 Labour MPs. Those Labour members thus become the arbiters of Brexit’s fate. – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)

John Redwood: Maybe you cannot keep asking the same question in Parliament

The Speaker’s ruling was a good one on the government’s Withdrawal Agreement. It has twice been decisively rejected. On the second occasion the government tabled additional documents and argued it was a amended proposal,  but many in Parliament thought the changes did not amount to much. As I wrote at the time, ask the same question and you probably get the same answer. From this clear ruling it seems the government cannot now table the same Agreement and vote again on it before the end of this week when the PM goes to the European Council. If she goes to the Council and gets some material change to the Agreement then she could return to the Commons next week and seek another vote. Meanwhile the ruling should also have implications for some other hardy perennials that this Parliament likes to go over and over again. Several times we have voted down staying in the customs union. We have voted down a second referendum. We have voted down the Cooper-Boles-Letwin idea of taking over the Commons agenda to legislate for Brexit delay. Perhaps now these cannot  be put again either. – John Redwood’s Diary

John Baron: The Brexit deal remains flawed. I intend to honour Article 50 by voting against it again

The No 10 spin machine is currently in overdrive to spook Brexiteers such as myself into supporting the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. We are being told that Brexit risks being delayed, or even abandoned altogether, if we do not acquiesce to what we all know to be a flawed deal. There have even been suggestions that those MPs not supporting the agreement are somehow unpatriotic. Yet such pressure is counter-productive. Rather than indulging in speculation and second-guessing as to the cumulative effect of future decisions that may or may not be taken by other MPs, and indeed EU officials, I can only vote on the facts as I see them. Having campaigned to leave the EU, many of my Parliamentary colleagues and I have done all we can to honour the referendum result. We have opposed both meaningful votes, and many of us have voted against ruling out ‘no deal’ and against extending the Article 50 deadline. I have also tried to improve the Withdrawal Agreement. This has included in January pushing my amendment to allow the UK a unilateral right to exit the backstop. Although this was voted down, a nearly identical amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady MP was passed a fortnight later, but this too is now being marginalised. – John Baron MP for the Telegraph (£)

Henry Newman: Bercow has demonstrated he will do anything to frustrate Brexit. So it’s time for MPs to smell the coffee

At a time when all politics is in flux, and it sometimes seems that literally anything could happen, there are still some certainties. One is that the personal vanity of the Speaker knows few bounds. Yesterday he demonstrated this. In a statement, John Bercow raised the pressure on the Government and suggested that he would use his own judgement to determine whether Theresa May’s Brexit deal could be put a third time to Parliament or not. He drew on a rule in Erskine May – the House of Commons procedure manual – which says that a motion cannot be repeatedly introduced if it has previously been rejected by MPs. Bercow was skewered by Mark Francois who pointed out that the rule also applies to amendments, and so, according to the same logic, the Speaker ought not to allow further divisions on a second referendum (which has previously been voted down by the Commons), nor indeed on a customs union, the Single Market and so on. Francois is correct. Erskine May actually reads: “a motion or amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during the same session may not be brought forward again during the same session”. – Henry Newman for ConservativeHome

Stephen Bush: Come what May, the PM has bungled her chances of getting Labour MPs to back her deal

“My big problem,” one Labour MP recently told me, “is that the only people round here who voted to Remain are members of my local party.” That’s the essential political dilemma facing the group of Labour MPs which LabourList dubs the Inbetweeners – MPs who campaigned to Remain but whose constituencies voted to Leave. Most MPs in this group believe that their political interests lie in backing rather than frustrating Brexit and 31 of them have rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn’s line to make Brexit harder. A minority think that regardless of political calculation, the referendum result must be enacted and honoured. John Bercow’s announcement earlier today forbids the government from holding further meaningful votes on motions that are “substantially the same”, or similar to, previous attempts. This represents a serious obstacle for the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan – though Number 10 will be working hard to identify procedural loopholes and other workarounds that might bring the proposed deal back into play.  Putting these developments aside for a moment, the ‘Inbetweener’ Labour MPs represent a big enough group that if May can get all of them on board, she might, just about, be able to pass her deal. Most in Westminster believe with good reason that there is a hard core of around 20 pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who will vote against the deal even if the Democratic Unionist Party is brought on side. – Stephen Bush for the Telegraph (£)

The Sun: Shameless Speaker John Bercow destroys Brexit deal hopes with his most destructive abuse of power yet

Now Remainers have their reward for keeping the most obnoxious, discredited and shameless Commons Speaker of ­modern times in his job. John Bercow, with Britain desperate for a deal to secure Brexit, scuppered the only one on the table with his most disgraceful abuse of power yet. He unearthed a rule from 1604 saying MPs couldn’t vote twice for the same proposition The same man who two months ago trashed centuries of  procedure to help Remainers now says we must stick rigidly to ancient rules. But you can bet your house he will allow multiple votes on defeated amendments for a second referendum, or for his Remainer pals to seize power. Our entire future is in the balance. Theresa May’s deal is the only route to an orderly exit, fulfilling the mandate of the 17.4million majority, as she must. A third vote is unarguably in the public interest. For Bercow to halt it is monstrous. Mrs May is having to fight a Remain majority AND a bent referee. For three years Remainers have  plotted to destroy Brexit. They’re nearly there. Bercow has almost delivered it. The political consequences will be catastrophic, especially for the Tories. Too few seem to know or care. The PM’s only hope is to present her deal again next week with a delay tacked on, or some other substantial change agreed with Brussels. That would be a different proposition and hard to ignore. But if Bercow fears that could pass, he will doubtless find a way. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • If capitulating MPs back Theresa May’s deal, it will destroy Brexit and the Tory party – Sherelle Jacobs for the Telegraph (£)
  • Brexit betrayal brings shame on Westminster – Chris Moncrieff for the Yorkshire Post
  • Could Matteo Salvini prevent an extension by using Italy’s EU veto? – John Stone for the Independent (£)
  • Sorry, Mr Bercow, the PM’s deal is not dead yet – Nikki Da Costa for the Telegraph (£)
  • Take chance to get off the hook, Labour tells Theresa May – The Times (£)
  • Johnson and Raab jockey for position over May’s Brexit deal – FT (£)
  • France’s EU minister names her cat ‘Brexit’ because ‘he meows loudly to be let out but won’t go through the door’ – Independent
  • Philip Davies and Esther McVey. They back May’s deal. “I don’t try to persuade Esther that she shouldn’t do something, and she doesn’t persuade me that I should do something.” – ConservativeHome