Morning Briefing: Bercow blows Brexit wide open - absurd extension plan - Corbyn's cross-party pressure
Pro-Brexit headline writers have their knives out for John Bercow this morning, incensed by what they see as an attempt to block Theresa May’s deal and Brexit more generally. “B*ll*cks to Bercow” screams The Sun. “The Brexit Destroyer” is the Express’s verdict, while The Mail condemns the “Smirk that says: Brexit be damned”.
The government is equally irate, suggesting the Commons Speaker is trying to sabotage Brexit. “We are talking about hours to March 29. Frankly we could have done without this,” complained solicitor general Robert Buckland.
But the government has had two-and-three-quarter years to sort Brexit out. It told us getting a deal would be the easiest thing ever and all it has been able to deliver is a mess that is reducing our country to the status of a laughing stock.
What Bercow has done is stop the government’s unthinking abuse of parliamentary procedure. The prime minister cannot keep forcing MPs to vote again and again on the same proposition, with minimal changes, while ignoring two crushing defeats. There are rules to stop Parliament going round in circles - the Speaker is simply using them.
Bercow’s unexpected ruling yesterday, based on a convention going back to 1604 in the Erskine May parliamentary rulebook, warned that any motion put to MPs could not be “substantively the same” as another motion in the same parliamentary session. This was in response to rumours that the government might attempt a third “meaningful vote” on May’s deal despite losing one by 149 votes just last week.
He went on to suggest that simply getting a new opinion on the meaning of the deal, or doing a side deal related to the deal, would not count as substantive change to the proposition. That rules out the government using new legal opinions from the attorney general or a fresh deal with the DUP as grounds for another meaningful vote.
It was a big move from Bercow. The government is already trying to find ways round it. The solicitor general has warned that proroguing Parliament - essentially cancelling this session and starting again - might be a way round the rules. A junior minister, Nadhim Zahawi, told Newsnight MPs could vote to ignore the 400-year-old rule. Another suggestion is that whatever comes out of the EU summit this week could be enough to argue that there has been substantive change.
But outside the government, Bercow’s ruling has briefly united the different sides of the Brexit debate. Hardline Brexiters, Labour and pro-Europeans alike have welcomed the chance to move on from May’s dead deal.
It is becoming futile for ministers to carry on trying to force this broken Brexit deal on the people of the UK. Instead, there is now the chance to find a compromise solution. That in turn would mean MPs recognising that no matter how they slice or dice Brexit, any deal will inevitably disappoint so many people – from all sides of this argument – it must be confirmed in a ballot of the people before it goes ahead.
That's why hundreds of thousands of people will march on Parliament on Saturday, demanding that whatever MPs decide, it’s only fair to put it to the people.
Tweet of the Day
Government's extension plan absurd
The government accepts it will need to give the EU a “clear purpose” to get a long extension to the Article 50 process. But the Brexit minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, refused again and again to tell MPs last night what that purpose would be - as well as how long an extension the prime minister would seek. He said MPs would get to debate the matter next week if the EU agreed on an extension at the summit on Thursday and Friday. But this is absurd as by then it would be much harder for MPs to have any input on the process. If the prime minister continues to refuse to discuss with Parliament the reasons it will give for a long extension before going to the summit, she will be treating it with contempt.
Graphic of the Day
Corbyn under pressure from cross-party allies
Having failed to turn up to meetings yesterday, in what looks like genuine diary confusion, Jeremy Corbyn is today expected to meet leaders from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Greens. The Labour leader will come under pressure from these potential Brexit allies to firmly back a public vote. A joint statement released by the four parties insisted the “best and most democratic way forward is to put the decision back to the people in a new vote” and that the option to stay in the EU should be on the ballot paper.
Quote of the Day
“We are in agreement that there is no such thing as a good Brexit. We are clear that retaining our EU membership is the only way to protect jobs, living standards, our public services, the environment and the economy. And it is important that we will retain all of our rights as EU citizens.
“We welcome Labour's recent decision to support a public vote, and we look forward to discussing how we can make it happen and give the people the final say on our EU membership - that must be the priority now.”
Joint statement from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Greens ahead of cross-party Brexit talks with Jeremy Corbyn today.
Video of the Day
DUP promises undermining UK
What won’t the government promise the DUP in their desperation to win backing for May’s Brexit deal? The latest speculation is that the Northern Ireland party could get a seat at future Brexit trade talks. This has predictably angered Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has written a letter to the prime minister warning of the consistent damage her Brexit policies have done to the “idea that the UK is a partnership of equal nations”. Scotland, Sturgeon argued, has often been “roundly ignored and at times treated with contempt” and the devolution settlement has suffered as a result. Rather than plough on with Brexit and get mired deeper in constitutional crisis, Sturgeon argues the “responsible and democratic thing to do” is to put Brexit back to the people.
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Top Brexit comment
Polly Toynbee: John Bercow’s ruling has breathed new life into the people’s vote (Guardian)
Jill Rutter: Dumping Olly Robbins would be cowardly, damaging and shortsighted (Times £)
William Hague: Leave MPs must take responsibility for the horrors of a long Brexit delay (Telegraph)
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Today, Tuesday 19th March
|09:30||ONS: labour market statistics|
|10:00||OBR chair Robert Chote gives evidence to Treasury committee on spring statement|
|11:00||Donald Tusk meeting Leo Varadkar in Dublin|
|14:00||EU General Affairs Council (press conference expected 15:00)|
|14:45||Asia minister Mark Field gives evidence to foreign affairs committee on “global Britain and India”|
Tomorrow, Wednesday 20th March
|09.30||ONS: consumer price inflation|
|09.30||ONS: house prices index|
|09.30||Northern Ireland political parties give evidence to Commons NI Committee on Backstop|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
|13.30||Michael Gove evidence to environment audit committee on draft environmental bill|