Brexit: Speaker may block PM’s push for Commons vote on his deal

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Boris Johnson is set for a showdown with Commons Speaker John Bercow today, with the prime minister expected to push for a so-called “meaningful vote” on his Brexit deal.

It is possible that Mr Bercow could block the government’s move, and rule that the vote cannot be repeated so soon because it effectively happened on Saturday.

He is expected to make a ruling at around 3.30pm..

Last week, the Speaker had told MPs that the “apparent purpose” of Monday’s vote was to “invalidate or obviate” the effect of an amendment by Sir Oliver Letwin, which means that MPs will withhold their approval for Mr Johnson’s deal unless and until he has passed all necessary legislation to implement it.

It comes after:

  • The PM secured a new Brexit deal with Brussels at an EU summit on Thursday
  • Mr Johnson was set to put it to a vote in the Commons on Saturday – before the Letwin amendment was passed
  • He then requested a three-month delay to Brexit – which he was required to do so under legislation passed by MPs to avoid a no-deal scenario law – but at the same time made clear to Brussels that he thought another extension would be a mistake

Downing Street has said that if the vote goes ahead, it will pull it in the event that any amendments are selected.

The PM’s official spokesman said this would “render the vote pointless”.

In the wake of Saturday’s setback, the government has also put on hold a vote on the Queen’s Speech – its legislative agenda which was set out at the state opening of parliament last week.

There have been suggestions that the the PM could be heading for a defeat in this vote, given he lacks a majority. If so, it would be the first time a government had been defeated on a Queen’s Speech since the 1920s.

If Mr Bercow does prevent Mr Johnson from having a meaningful vote in the Commons, the focus will switch to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which the government has confirmed it will introduce later.

There will be a vote on its second reading tomorrow.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the legislation which enshrines the Brexit deal into UK law.

Ministers have insisted that they have the numbers to push this agreement through the Commons, but the arithmetic in parliament appears to be very tight.

A government source told the PA news agency: “Parliament needs a straight up-and-down vote on the deal… or do they want to frustrate and cancel Brexit altogether?

“We cannot allow parliament’s letter to lead to parliament’s delay.”

Labour has warned it is going to try to hijack the legislation by putting down amendments for a second Brexit referendum and a customs union with the EU.

Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has also indicated that the opposition could back the Withdrawal Agreement Bill if it was put to voters in a national poll against an option to Remain.

All of this comes as reports suggest that the EU is considering whether to offer the UK a “flexible extension” to the Brexit deadline – enabling the country to leave the trading bloc whenever an agreement has been secured.

Mr Johnson has continued to insist that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, but with just 10 days to go until this “do or die” deadline, the clock is ticking.

The PM was forced to abandon plans for a meaningful vote on Saturday after Sir Oliver Letwin’s amendment passed – and as a result, he had to write to European Council President Donald Tusk to request a three-month extension to the Brexit negotiating period until 31 January 2020.

Although Mr Johnson did fulfil this legal obligation, he sent a second letter that warned a further delay to Brexit would be “deeply corrosive” for both the UK and the EU.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused the prime minister of “behaving like a spoilt brat”.

Looking ahead to today’s events in Westminster, Sky’s political correspondent Lewis Goodall said: “It always does seem to be a crucial week for the government and the Brexit deal, but I think the next few days really will be pivotal.

“Despite the fact that the government wants to bring back a meaningful vote today, they will not in all likelihood be allowed to do so.

“This is because the Speaker will likely get up at 3.30pm and say that, as a result of the fact that the House of Commons has already made a decision on this via the Letwin amendment, there cannot be a meaningful vote until that legislation has been carried out.

“The problem then is that, once you get looking into the legislation, it can be amended in every way imaginable.”