House of Commons speaker John Bercow may have just put an end to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to bring the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement back for a third “meaningful vote” if the deal is “substantially similar” to the one that has twice been rejected so far.
In what could be interpreted as a gamechanger of a statement, Bercow suggested that Downing Street’s plan to bring the draft treaty up for a third vote is out of order according to a precedent from 1604 which does not allow for the “same fundamental proposition” to be put to the Commons again.
Bercow did not rule out a third Brexit vote, entirely, suggesting that May would be allowed to put a deal before the House if it was substantially different from the withdrawal agreement proposed during the previous two votes. He did stress, however, that a change in opinion on the UK side would not be enough for him to allow for a fresh vote. Instead, a new “fundamentally different” deal would have to be negotiated with the EU.
“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 on 12 March, this would be entirely in order,” he said. “What the government cannot legitimately do is resubmit to the House the same proposition – or substantially the same proposition – as that of last week, which was rejected by 149 votes”.
The Withdrawal Agreement was given a second go, says Bercow, as “it could be credibly argued that it was a different proposition from what had already been rejected by the House on 15 January,”
The second draft came about after changes were agreed during May’s last-minute meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg. “It contained a number of legal changes, which the government considered to be binding, and which had been agreed with the European Union after further intensive discussions,” noting that it was also accompanied by the publication of three new documents.
“Members on both sides of the House, and indeed on both sides of the Brexit argument, have expressed their concerns to me about the House being repeatedly asked to pronounce on the same fundamental proposition,” Bercow told the Commons. “Decisions of the House matter. They have weight. In many cases, they have direct effects not only here but on the lives of our constituents. The absence of speaker intervention since 1920 is attributable not to the discontinuation of the convention, but to general compliance with it.”
A UK spokesperson told New Europe that “the government will consider its options”. The European Commissions declined to comment when asked about the latest developments.