24 hours ago, the LabourList daily email discussed the possibility that Theresa May would not put her Brexit deal to another vote this week, but instead wait until after the EU summit. Well, she doesn’t have a choice in the matter now. In a statement that apparently took the government by surprise, Speaker Bercow told MPs yesterday afternoon that the deal “cannot legitimately” be brought back to the Commons for a third time without substantial changes being made to it.
Print headlines today cry “B*ll*cks to Bercow”, call him a “Brexit destroyer”, point out his “smirk”. Westminster has described this as a ‘bombshell’ ruling. While there is no doubt that Bercow thoroughly enjoyed his intervention, it was hardly unexpected: last week, Labour backbencher Chris Bryant proposed an amendment to precisely this effect, the Speaker selected it and indicated that he agreed with its contention. And it is hardly unreasonable: the rule can be found in Erskine May, and common sense dictates that the same motion should not be moved over and over until its proposer gets the answer they are seeking.
Government ministers are angry and a bit lost as to what to do next, but all other Brexit camps are cheered by the development. Jeremy Corbyn will hold talks with other opposition leaders and Brexit groups today, and they are bound to be more optimistic than ever. It’s good news for Common Market 2.0 advocates, and indeed anyone who simply wants a different political declaration in May’s deal (which is entirely possible to agree with the EU and would constitute substantial change to the deal, satisfying Bercow’s ruling). This is an “opportunity” for the PM to “change her red lines” and avoid “more humiliation”, CM2.0 backer Stephen Kinnock said.
And without a third meaningful vote this week, the Prime Minister must ask EU leaders for an extension to Article 50 – including a lengthy delay. This is welcomed by campaigners for another referendum, who want as much time as possible to build up their numbers in parliament and don’t consider participating in European elections to be a bad thing at all.
Has a softer Brexit – or no Brexit at all – just become more likely? There are good reasons to think so, though there are caveats. The government intends to press on with the current deal and hopes to implement only a short, technical extension to Article 50. The Speaker has made clear that his role is to facilitate the will of the House, which means a ‘paving motion’ could clear the path for another vote on the same deal. It’s quite astonishing that the PM would rely on this possibility: it would require two successive majorities and currently she is far short of one. But underestimating the stubbornness of Theresa May doesn’t seem wise. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.