Theresa May accused John Bercow of tipping Britain into a Brexit crisis today after he ruined her plans for the Brexit endgame.
Cabinet wrestled with what to do next for 90 minutes today in the aftermath of the bombshell ruling from the Commons Speaker that the PM could not bring back her deal unchanged for a new vote.
The Prime Minister must now beg the EU for a delay to Brexit without one final push on her deal. She will write to EU Council President Donald Tusk before the summit on Thursday setting out what she wants.
Downing Street refused to comment today on what the letter will say or what Cabinet discussed in terms of delay.
But ministers are said to have split on how long to ask for amid claims Mrs May wants up to two years with an option to be out by the end of June if her Brexit deal is passed in time to avoid European elections on May 23. No 10 sources denied a two-year extension was discussed at Cabinet.
Commons Leader and Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom warned: ‘This used to be the Cabinet that would deliver Brexit and now from what I’m hearing it’s not.”
But Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘If you look back at the speech by the Prime Minister before meaningful vote two (MVII), she said that if MPs did not support MVII, we would be in a moment of crisis.
‘I think events yesterday tell you that situation has come to pass.’
Asked how the PM was tackling the crisis, the spokesman said: ‘What you can see from the Prime Minister and from her colleagues is absolute determination to find a way in which Parliament can vote for the UK leave the European Union with a deal.
‘The Prime Minister’s has been very clear she wants that to happen as soon as possible.
‘She believes that asking the British people to take part in European elections three years after they voted to leave the European Union would represent a failure of politicians.’
Earlier, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay hinted the Government could bring back its deal within days anyway and dare Mr Bercow to rule it out of order if and when the PM has secured a delay to Brexit. The Cabinet will discuss the crisis in No 10 this morning.
Mrs May is likely to try and secure a delay to Britain’s exit date at Thursday’s EU summit and use that to overcome Bercow’s demands at a vote next week. Britain is currently due to leave the EU on the Friday.
The Speaker refused to comment on his decision when greeted by reporters outside Parliament this morning.
But Brexit hardliners have backed the explosive ruling that has left Prime Minister’s plans lying in tatters today.
Members of the European Research Group led by Jacob Rees-Mogg seized on the Commons Speaker’s intervention as they fight to secure No Deal Brexit on schedule.
MPs in the group were heard whistling the ‘Great Escape’ theme tune in the Commons tea room last night in the belief Mr Bercow’s bombshell makes their hopes of No Deal more likely.
They also hope a long delay – instead of a short extension to implement this deal – would allow them to dictate the terms of Brexit.
Brexit hardliners backed John Bercow’s (pictured today outside Parliament) ruling Theresa May cannot bring her deal back unchanged for a third time as the Prime Minister’s plans lay in tatters today
Mrs May will fly to Brussels on Thursday for a tense EU summit at which she will admit Brexit must be delayed. She had hoped to go having secured support for her battered deal at the third attempt and ask only for a short technical extension of around three months
Members of the European Research Group led by Jacob Rees-Mogg (left leaving home today) seized on the Commons Speaker’s intervention as they fight to secure No Deal Brexit on March 29 next week despite Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (right in Downing Street today) insisting the Government still wanted to pass the deal
UK ‘might have to leave by April 11 to avoid £108m cost of Euro elections’
The UK could be sucked into taking part in the European Elections at a cost of more than £100million if we have not left by April 11, officials have said.
That date in just 23 days time is the deadline for passing legislation to allow the May 23-26 elections to take place.
That’s because on April 12 the Government must, under current laws,‘publish notice of the poll’ that is to come the following month, the Government has said.
This kick-starts official preparations like hiring staff and setting up polling stations.
Ministers’ hands are tied by the European Parliament Elections Act 2002, which sets out the process to follow and which will only be repealed on Brexit day by the EU Withdrawal Act becoming law.
The last set of European elections in 2014 cost £108.6million and Downing Street believes the figure for this time round would be ‘comparable’.
Former Cabinet minister David Jones said the ruling was ‘absolutely accurate’ and insisted it was a ‘well known’ rule – adding Mr Bercow was doing the ‘right thing’.
Mrs May will fly to Brussels on Thursday for a tense EU summit at which she will admit Brexit must be delayed.
She had hoped to go having secured support for her battered deal at the third attempt and ask only for a short technical extension of around three months.
Instead she will beg for a much longer delay despite little clarity over what Britain might do with months or years more time.
Exasperated EU ministers arrived in Brussels for a pre-summit meeting today complaining about the chaos in London – warning ‘patience’ in the bloc was being sorely tested.
As Mrs May’s prepares her mission, the Foreign Office revealed its No Deal ‘war room’ today with just 11 days until Britain was supposed to leave the EU.
Mr Jones told the Today programme: ‘John Bercow’s ruling was absolutely accurate.
‘It has been well known that it’s impossible for a Speaker to allow a series of identical motions to be put before the House in the same session.
‘There is nothing new about this and those who are crying foul are really wrong.
‘He did the right thing.’
Why is John Bercow a controversial Speaker?
A ‘Boll**** to Brexit’ sticker can be clearly seen in photographs of Mr Bercow’s black 4×4, which has a personalised numberplate
Brexit bias: John Bercow has revealed publicly that he voted for Remain in 2016, fuelling claims by Brexiteers he is trying to frustrate Brexit in the Commons.
The claims were fuelled by an anti-Brexit sticker being spotted in a black Land Rover parked outside Mr Bercow’s Commons home – he has insisted the car and sticker belongs to his wife.
Brexiteers were furious last week when he refused to accept an amendment that sought to rule out a second referendum on Brexit.
It added to complaints through much of the two-and-a-half years since the referendum that he has sought to boost pro-EU supporters such as Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke at the expense of Brexiteers.
Bullying claims: John Bercow has been hit by a number of bullying claims. He is said to have subjected staff to angry outbursts for years, mocking junior officials and leaving staff ‘terrified’.
A former private secretary Kate Emms has said she was left with PTSD after working for him.
Mr Bercow denies all the allegations.
His wife Sally: Sally Bercow has courted controversy since her husband was first elected. She infamously posed in a sheet for a magazine interview soon after Mr Bercow was first elected and she took part in Celebrity Big Brother.
A public Labour supporter, Mrs Bercow’s political views led to claims she undermined the Speaker’s independence.
In 2015 it emerged Sally had an affair with Mr Bercow’s cousin Alan – even leading the couple to move into the family home in Battersea while the Speaker stayed in his grace-and-favour apartment in Parliament.
Expenses: Mr Bercow faced persistent criticism of his official expenses, which have included lavish bills for chauffeur-driven cars, trips abroad and entertaining foreign dignitaries.
Mr Bercow and his family live rent-free in an opulent apartment at parliament, where the taxpayer foots a £109 a month bill for the Arsenal fan’s Sky subscription.
Bias against the Tories: Conservative ministers and MPs have long-complained Mr Bercow favours Labour. He repeatedly hauls ministers to the Commons to answer Urgent Questions and Emergency Debates – far more often than has historically been the case.
He frequently reprimands ministers, often sarcastically, and his behaviour prompted the Cameron Government to launch a near-unprecedented attempt to remove him in 2015.
Mr Bercow provoked further fury by speaking out against Donald Trump and Brexit in defiance of protocol demanding he be impartial.
Mr Jones – a senior ERG MP and supporter of No Deal – insisted the legal position was unchanged and Britain was still due to leave the EU next Friday.
He said: ‘For us not to leave on Friday next week, the law would have to be changed.’
In a signal of the Government gearing up for a battle with the Speaker, Mr Barclay struck a defiant tone today.
He told Sky News: ‘What we need to do is secure the deal.
‘What the Speaker has said in his ruling is there needs to be something that is different.
‘You can have the same motion but where the circumstances have changed.
‘Obviously that has a difference in terms of how Members of Parliament would vote on a particular motion.
‘So we need to look at the details of the ruling, we need to consider that in the terms of earlier rulings that don’t particularly align with yesterday’s.
‘That the fact that a number of Members of Parliament have said that they will change their votes points to the fact that there are things that are different.’
The Speaker detonated Mrs May’s plans in a short notice statement at 3.30pm yesterday – without warning No 10 in advance.
Mr Bercow told the Commons: ‘If the Government wishes to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same or substantially the same as that disposed of by the House on March 12, that would be entirely in order.
‘What the Government cannot legitimately do is resubmit to the House the same proposition or substantially the same proposition that was rejected by 149 votes’.
Asked if he was worried about the ramifications of his decision he added: ‘I’ve never lost a wink of sleep over anything work related’.
Mr Bercow invoked a precedent from April 1604 – used 12 times in the Commons since then – to warn the PM that she must significantly change her deal if she wants to force another vote on it before the scheduled exit day on March 29.
The Speaker cited page 397 of the Commons rulebook, Erskine May – and insisted today’s ruling ‘should not be regarded as my last word on the subject.’
Mr Bercow told MPs: ‘One of the reasons the rule has lasted so long it is a necessary rule to ensure the sensible use of the House’s time and proper respect for the decisions which it takes.
‘Rulings of the House matter. They have weight.
‘In many cases, they have direct effect not only here but on the lives of our constituents.’
A senior Government source last night said the Speaker, who is an outspoken critic of Brexit, wanted to wreck Mrs May’s plan of limiting the delay to three months.
‘It seems clear that the Speaker’s motive here is to rule out a meaningful vote this week,’ the source added.
‘It leads you to believe what he really wants is a longer extension, where Parliament will take over the process and force a softer form of Brexit.
‘Anyone who thinks that this makes No Deal more likely is mistaken – the Speaker wouldn’t have done it if it did.’
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd arrived for Cabinet in No 10 this morning with the latest Brexit crisis set to be on the agenda
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the embattled Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley arrived for Cabinet together
Tory leadership rivals Chief Secretary Liz Truss and Home Secretary Sajid Javid were also seen arriving for the Cabinet meeting
Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt arrived for Cabinet by car as the Government’s senior ministers held another round of talks on tackling the Brexit crisis
Foreign Office chief Sir Simon McDonald revealed his officials were stepping up their Brexit preparations with 11 days until exit
Senior French and German ministers have torn into UK politicians over the Brexit chaos engulfing Westminster, demanding MPs finally make up their mind or risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
How could May escape Bercow’s trap?
The Government is scrambling to find a way to escape the John Bercow bombshell on the Brexit deal. These are possible options:
The Government could table a separate motion spelling out explictly MPs should get a third vote on the deal. It will only work if there are votes to pass the deal – which looks unlikely.
Change the law to scrap the meaningful vote
Laws to implement the deal could scrap the requirement to have an approval vote at all. This also looks unlikely as MPs defeated the Government to force the vote in the first place.
Suspending standing orders
The Commons controls its own rule book so a Government motion could suspend the rules invoked by the Speaker – but the Government would still need to win a vote for this to work.
End the session and hold a Queen’s Speech
The nuclear option would be to dump the current session of Parliament early and hold a quick fire State Opening. Normally this means the Queen coming to Westminster – but it is not compulsory.
It would be hard in the time available and would mean scrapping huge amounts of unfinished laws – and the Government would still need to win votes on a new Queen’s Speech after.
As EU foreign ministers met in Brussels there was a clear message that it was up to Britain to come up with a solution that would allow Brussels to delay Brexit.
The meeting of the General Affairs Council came the morning after Speaker John Bercow threw a massive spanner in the works of Mrs May’s attempt to get a deal done before she faces EU leaders herself on Thursday.
German Europe minister Michael Roth told reporters in Brussels: ‘Our patience as the European Union is being sorely tested at the moment.
‘I can only call once again on our British partners in London to make concrete proposals at last on why they want an extension.’
Germany’s core aim was to avoid a disorderly Brexit, but it could only agree to a postponement of the scheduled leave date of March 29 if London gave a clear reason to do so, he said.
A postponement beyond June would mean Britain would have to participate in European Parliament elections, he added.
‘Dear friends in London, please deliver. The clock is ticking,’ Roth said
His French counterpart Nathalie Loiseau ramped up the pressure on Theresa May by suggesting a no-deal Brexit could well happen unless her Government solves the current ‘deadlock’.
In other developments today, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will meet leaders of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Green Party to discuss Brexit and how to end the current impasse.
In a joint statement ahead of the talks, Ian Blackford, Vince Cable, Liz Saville Roberts and Caroline Lucas said: ‘The UK faces an unprecedented crisis with Brexit, and Westminster remains deeply divided.
‘The best and most democratic way forward is to put the decision back to the people in a new vote – with the option to Remain on the ballot paper.’
German Foreign Minister Michael Roth said that London politicians had to make ‘concrete proposals at last on why they want an extension’ while French EU affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau spoke to reporters in Brussels today
Mr Corbyn will also meet members of the ‘Norway Plus’ group of MPs in a separate meeting on Tuesday.
The group is determined to force a soft Brexit through to end the current impasse.
Meanwhile in Dublin, European Council president Donald Tusk will hold talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar.
Elsewhere Tony Blair denied that he had been pushing EU leaders to hold firm and wait for a new referendum on Brexit.
He told GMB: ‘The idea that I’ve been going over to Europe and saying hold firm, don’t give in…. I think you’ll find that’s from a Conservative source.’
He added: ‘Of course I speak to a lot of the EU leaders, I still know them. Look, the reason they’ve got a problem is not because I’ve given them a problem. I haven’t been the Prime Minister for 11 years, they’re the government and the European Union leaders deal with the government.’
Blair said a decision on the type of Brexit needs to be made: ‘Some want a ‘soft’ Brexit and some want a ‘hard’ Brexit, what we should have done over the last 2 and a half/ 3 years is force parliament to choose between those options. Once you choose between those options, the rest of the negotiation is relatively simple to do.’
He continued: ‘She [Theresa May] can still now rescue this situation if she puts before parliament the core options. The real reason parliament is rejecting this deal – at the heart of it – is the fact that her deal leaves Northern Ireland in a bit of a mess as you’re not quite sure what the situation is there and the future relationship a mystery and that is not a sensible situation to be in.’
He said: ‘To be fair to Theresa May I think she genuinely does want to deliver Brexit even though she voted Remain.’
So what DOES Speaker Bercow’s shock move mean for Brexit?
Q&A by Ian Drury
What happened yesterday?
Commons Speaker John Bercow announced, without warning, that MPs could not vote on the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement for a third time unless it was ‘substantially different’ from before.
Downing Street was stunned, insisting it had no notice that the statement was coming.
Mr Bercow might argue he is behaving honourably. But at a time of national crisis, when the Government is trying to pick a way through the impasse, his intervention will be seen by ministers as profoundly unhelpful. The EU has already said it will not re-open the deal to provide the kind of changes that would satisfy the Speaker.
What had been the Prime Minister’s plan?
After two humiliating Commons defeats for her Brexit deal – one by a record 230 votes in January, the second by 149 last week – Theresa May wanted to bring her agreement back for approval by MPs for a third time before March 29.
Ministers had pencilled in today or tomorrow to hold the vote ahead of the next meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday. Westminster watchers dubbed this ‘Meaningful Vote Three’ (MV3). Mrs May had hoped enough hardline Tory Brexiteers would hold their noses and support her deal, fearing the alternatives: a long delay to leaving the EU, a soft Brexit or, worst, no Brexit at all.
How can the Speaker justify his move?
Having been asked by Labour MPs Angela Eagle and Chris Bryant whether the Government was allowed to vote on the same motion repeatedly in a short space of time, the Speaker said he had consulted Erskine May, the Parliamentary procedural handbook. He cited a 415-year-old precedent – not used for nearly 100 years – to rule the PM could not bring back broadly the same deal ‘during that same [Parliamentary] session’.
But didn’t he flout parliamentary convention himself?
He did indeed. In January, Mr Bercow tore up centuries of Commons procedure and helped frustrate Mrs May’s attempts to win a better deal from the EU.
He allowed an amendment by the former attorney general and Remain campaigner Dominic Grieve that forced the PM to come back within three sitting days if her withdrawal agreement was voted down.
This ruling by the Speaker was made against the advice of Commons Clerk Sir David Natzler and meant the Government lost an element of control over Parliamentary business.
Is Mr Bercow right to make it harder to hold a third vote?
Legal experts and MPs were divided yesterday over his interpretation of procedure.
But last October Sir David told MPs: ‘If it was exactly the same document and they came back three months later for another bite, I do not think the procedures of the House are designed to obstruct the necessary business of government in that way in such a crucial thing.’
So is Mrs May’s deal dead – or is it still on life support?
If it becomes clear that there is a majority for the deal, the Government can probably put it to a vote.
The PM still has to travel to Brussels on Thursday to ask the EU for an extension and MPs will have to vote on that, plus alternative outcomes.
While leaving the bloc on March 29 is still the default legal position – with or without a deal – there is zero chance that Parliament, which is overwhelmingly Remain-supporting, will allow that.
But the Speaker has certainly inserted yet another unwanted obstacle for the Government to overcome.
What happens next?
There will not be a third vote this week, meaning MPs could be voting on Brexit next week, days before the March 29 ‘exit day’. Mrs May will now have to find something substantially different to allow her to even put a vote before the Commons.
Solicitor general Robert Buckland stated succinctly yesterday: ‘We are going to have to put all our thinking caps on and come up with some quick answers.’
A nuclear option would be ejecting Mr Bercow from the Speaker’s chair using a no-confidence motion. However, Remainers – especially Labour MPs – turn a blind eye to his antics because they see an ally in thwarting Brexit.
A second option is proroguing Parliament – ending the session. Public Bills can be carried over from one session to the next. But this would require a new Queen’s Speech and take time, yet the Brexit clock has only ten days to tick.