In Brief

‘Constitutional crisis’ as John Bercow blocks third Brexit vote

Theresa May likely to have to request long Article 50 extension after Speaker intervenes

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Speaker John Bercow has “plunged Britain into a major constitutional crisis”, says the Solicitor General, by ruling out another vote on Theresa May’s deal unless MPs are given a new motion.

In an unexpected move, Bercow announced he would not permit a third “meaningful vote” in the coming days on “substantially the same” motion as MPs rejected last week. He cited a Commons rule from 1604 that prevents Parliament being forced to vote on the same issue repeatedly in a short space of time.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says Bercow’s move has “chucked a hulking great spanner in the works”. Polly Toynbee of The Guardian praises him for “seizing back sovereignty for the Commons” against the “abuse of power by May and her chaotic government,” while The Sun says simply: “Bollocks to Bercow”.

In a dramatic plot twist in the Brexit epic, Bercow told the Commons: “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.

“This ruling should not be regarded as my last word on the subject. It is simply meant to indicate the test which the government must meet in order for me to rule that a third meaningful vote can legitimately be held in this parliamentary session.”

With just 11 days to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, Bercow’s intervention took MPs by surprise. The prime minister's official spokesman said Downing Street had not been warned of Bercow's speech's contents “or indeed the fact that he was making one”.

Tory MP James Gray, who planned to vote for the deal after rejecting it twice, said he was “absolutely furious” with Bercow but Brexiteer and former Conservative cabinet minister Owen Paterson said it was a “game-changer” which will “concentrate minds”.

Analysts feel that a longer delay to Brexit is now likely. Theresa May had been due to submit her Brexit deal for MPs to vote on for a third time this week - a week after they rejected it by 149 votes - and ahead of the EU summit on Thursday.

The prime minister is expected to fly to the summit with a request for a long extension to Article 50. This could mean the UK has to spend more than £100m on participating in European parliament elections.

The Guardian says the options to break the deadlock include a second referendum, an election or a cross-party proposal for a softer Brexit. 

Alternatively, a “paving vote” could be deployed to set aside the 1604 convention if a majority in the House of Commons agreed they wanted to vote on the deal again.

However, the UK is still currently due to leave the EU on 29 March.

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