Parliament Speaker Rules Out Another Vote on May's Deal Unless It's Changed
The Wall Street Journal reports U.K. Parliament Won’t Revote on Brexit Deal, Speaker Says.
In a surprise intervention that blindsided the government, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said Monday that lawmakers aren’t allowed to vote on the same bill twice. He said last week’s vote had been justified because the deal was altered after it was voted down by a record margin in January.
“What the government cannot legitimately do is to resubmit to the House the same proposition or substantially the same proposition as that of last week, which was rejected by 149 votes,” said Mr. Bercow, citing a text dating back to 1604.
Mr. Bercow said the deal on offer wouldn’t be materially different from the one lawmakers rejected last week. To get a fresh vote, he said, Mrs. May would have to negotiate substantial changes to the Brexit deal. EU leaders have already said they are unwilling to do this.
The speaker’s ruling was a twist that few predicted, dealing a potentially fatal blow to Mrs. May’s strategy for coercing lawmakers into endorsing her Brexit deal.
She planned to use the threat of an extension that could lead to Brexit being canceled as a way to crowbar euroskeptic lawmakers into backing her agreement. Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but last week Mrs. May said she would seek to extend that departure date to avoid the U.K. crashing out of the trade bloc without a deal.
The Remainers are delighted by this as they see it as a way to a lengthy delay followed by outright revocation following new elections.
The hardcore Brexiters including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Bill Cash and are happy because fence-sitting Tories seemingly will not be forced to this again without changes.
“It seems to me what you’ve said makes an enormous amount of sense, given the fact this has been defeated on two past occasions,” Mr. Cash said. Mr. Rees-Mogg said he was “delighted” with the ruling, which relieves him of the pressure of backing a deal he never liked—even at the potential cost of facing new threats to Brexit in the months ahead.
Logically, one side has to be wrong. This ruling cannot be good for both camps. But here we are.
Four Ways Around the Ruling
- Theresa May can ask the Queen to start a new Parliament. All that takes is a speech and willingness to do so if asked.
- May can put fort a motion to suspend the no-repeat rule, but that would surely fail.
- The EU can agree to some minor new tweak.
- A revised legal opinion or clarification by Attorney General Cox on the backstop would likely work.
One way or another there will be at least one more vote and possibly two. Perhaps the last one, if just a few vote shy of majority, takes a queenly intervention.
So, what about an extension? May's gamble is to dangle the horror of a long Brexit extension in front of her own MPs' noses to pressure them to support the deal. A long extension is a death sentence for the Conservative Party. Donald Tusk's advocacy of a long extension has been useful in that respect. It feeds the conspiracy theory that the EU is plotting to keep the UK inside forever.
Wolfgang Munchau lists a number of reasons why a long Brexit extension is exceedingly risky from the EU's perspective - including the impact on the balance of power in the European Parliament as the UK would have to hold elections to it - and a distraction from more important geopolitical issues. If the EU opts for a shorter extension, as we would expect, it would have less of a deterrent impact on the eurosceptics - if they expect this to result in no-deal Brexit with no possibility of extension in May or June. A short extension would still allow the UK to settle for an alternative future relationship - Norway or the single market. Changes to the political declaration do not require a long extension since the withdrawal treaty would be unchanged. The same goes for a general election. It is possible that elections could take place as early as May 2 - a date set for UK local elections. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act requires only a minimum of 17 working days between the dissolution of parliament and the elections. Elections would lead only to a one-month Brexit delay.
The Tories will probably not want to hold elections. If you look at the most recent opinion polls, their most important feature is extraordinary volatility. The polls follow the news.
The preceding three paragraphs are from Eurointelligence. I disagree on a several of points.
First, France did indeed threaten to demand the UK give up fishing rights to get out of the backstop. Spain made threats regarding Gibraltar. And all 27 members have to agree. Lord only knows what they will ask.
Eurointelligence is crazy to dismiss such actions. However, the revised wording by Jean-Claude Juncker might work, or not. I expect clarification of the risks by Cox. He will be under pressure to present the risks in the best light.
Eurointelligence acts as if a Norway option would be automatically accepted by the EU. All it takes is one veto. And unless it's a totally separate deal, Norway (not even in the EU), could and would reject it.
Finally, although Tusk wants a long delay, many nations in the EU don't want a delay extending past the EU parliametary elections in May. They don't really want four more years of Nigel Farage. Other issues include an EU army which France wants but the UK won't vote for.
Has John Bercow Made a No Deal Brexit More Likely?
Today's chaos looks significant but close inspection shows that not much as changed.
One way or another there will be a third "meaningful" vote. If that vote fails by less than 10 votes, expect a fourth.
If all of those fail, I suspect there will not be a long delay, but a short one that ends in no majority for any specific action that the EU will accept. That would mean a no-deal Brexit.
I still have not taken a Malthouse-type compromise off the table, one in which the UK leaves the EU but remains in a customs union for two years while the backstop is negotiated.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock