The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has said the government cannot bring the meaningful vote back to parliament again unless there has been substantial change to the Brexit deal.
In a shock move likely to infuriate the prime minister, the Speaker said the House of Commons was “being repeatedly asked to pronounce” on the same question.
Bercow suggested he believed such a change would involve a renegotiation at EU level, rather than clarification of the legal advice written by the attorney general, something that had been suggested this week.
Quoting from the guide to parliamentary procedure, Erskine May, Bercow said that by convention, the question “may not be brought forward again during the same session” and that it was a “strong and longstanding convention” dating back to 1604.
He said the convention had been confirmed again many times, including in 1864, 1870, 1882, 1891 and 1912. “Indeed, Erskine May makes reference to no fewer than 12 such rulings up to the year 1920,” he said. “One of the reasons the rule has lasted so long is that it is a necessary rule to ensure the sensible use of the house’s time and the proper respect for the decisions it takes.
“Decisions of the house matter. They have weight,” he said. “It is a necessary rule to ensure the sensible use of the house’s time and the proper respect for the decisions which it takes.”
Bercow said the second meaningful vote motion held last week did not fall foul of the convention, because it “could credibly argued it was a different proposition” to that rejected on 15 January because of changes the government considered to be legally binding.
“If the government was to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same, nor substantially the same as disposed of by 10 March, this would be entirely in order,” he said, but added that it could not be “the same proposition or substantially the same proposition”.
In a response to a point of order by the chair of the Brexit select committee, Hilary Benn, Bercow said a “demonstrable change to the proposition would be desired … a change in opinion about something does not in itself constitute a change of the offer.”
He said the change must make the deal “fundamentally different”, rather than just a unilateral reinterpretation.
“Not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance,” he said. “This is in the context of a negotiation with others, outside the United Kingdom. That would be my initial feeling.”
Bercow won immediate support from the leading Conservative Brexiter Bill Cash, in a flurry of points of order after the statement.
“It seems to me that what you have said makes an enormous amount of sense given the fact that, actually, this has been defeated on two separate occasions,” Cash said.
The Speaker said the motion could be put forward unchanged if parliament was prorogued and then resumed, in answer to a question from the pro-Brexit Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.
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