LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal cannot be “substantially the same” as the one that was rejected last Tuesday (March 12) if she wants to bring it back to the House of Commons for a third meaningful vote, the Parliament’s Speaker John Bercow said, addressing the House on Monday.
Speaking in the context of what ought to be submitted to the House, Mr Bercow said that his statement was “designed to signal what would be orderly and what would not”.
He said: “This is my conclusion: 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 the 12th of March, this would be entirely in order.
“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.”
Mr Bercow, also added, however, that the ruling “should not be regarded as his last word on the subject”.
Precedents dating back to 1604, show that substantially similar proposals cannot be voted on in the House of Commons more than once during the same session of Parliament, Mr Bercow highlighted.
Responding to a lawmaker on whether further changes to the deal would be needed before it could be brought back to a vote, Mr Bercow said: “Simply a change in opinion about something wouldn’t itself constitute a change in the offer.”
He added: “Fundamentally, for something to be different, it has to be, by definition, fundamentally different – not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance. This is in the context of negotiation with others outside the United Kingdom.”
Last week, using the threat of a lengthy Brexit delay, Mrs May made clear that her negotiated divorce deal was still on the table, committing to a third vote on her Brexit agreement as early as Tuesday this week, despite having had it rejected twice – in January by a historic margin, and again last Tuesday.
After lawmakers last Thursday approved for the British government to seek an extension to Article 50 or the Brexit negotiation period, Mrs May delivered them an ultimatum – back her deal so that she can request a “short, technical extension” until June 30; if not, Britain will need to participate in European Parliament elections in May, or worse, risk Brexit not materialising at all.
Ministers said last weekend, however, that Mrs May would not hold a vote unless she was sure of a win.
Mrs May’s spokesman said: “Before any further vote were to take place, we would want to believe that we had a reasonable prospect of being successful.”
Government talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the small Northern Irish party that props up Mrs May’s minority government in Parliament, “are continuing”, her spokesman has said. She will need to convince the DUP and Conservative Brexiters to back her, if she is to secure a win.
The British government was not forewarned of Mr Bercow’s statement, Mrs May’s spokesman said after it was announced that the same Brexit deal could not be tabled for another vote.
However, a third vote on Mrs May’s Brexit deal could still be likely, as there are “ways around” the Parliament Speaker’s ruling, Britain’s solicitor general Robert Buckland said.
Speaking to Britain’s national broadcaster BBC, he raised the prospect of prorogation – ending the Parliament session prematurely.
Mr Buckland said: “We’re in a major constitutional crisis here... This has given us quite a lot to think about in the immediate term. There are ways around this – a prorogation of Parliament and a new session – but we are now talking about not just days but hours to the 29th of March.”
Mrs May is due to meet EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, where she is likely to request an extension to the current Brexit negotiation process. However, it is not immediately known how long of an extension she will now ask for or what the British Parliament can agree on ahead of her meeting.
With less than a fortnight until Britain is scheduled to depart the European bloc on March 29, the Brexit process remains mired in chaos and uncertainty.
Analysts said the Speaker’s statement would likely impede and prolong Mrs May’s Brexit negotiations.
Ms Danielle Haralambous, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Reuters: “Mr Bercow’s statement was unprecedented and has more significantly limited the government’s room for manoeuvre, making it difficult to see how Mrs May can still hope to get her deal approved.
“Mr Bercow has made the point that the government needs a new proposition to put to the House... The problem is that the government has no more leeway to alter the terms of deal in talks with the EU (not to mention no more time) and now cannot present the same motion to Parliament.”
She added: “While it was looking for a while like Mrs May had a better chance of getting her deal through, Mr Bercow’s move may have reduced this chance again, and a longer Brexit extension to pursue another plan is looking more likely.”