FURIOUS politicians accused Speaker John Bercow of trying to scupper Brexit.
The Commons chief tore up long-standing rules to authorise a highly controversial vote by MPs, against his most senior official’s advice.
The Government lost the vote — enabling rebel Tories to wrestle Brexit control from Theresa May. Chief Whip Julian Smith accused Mr Bercow of being “totally out of order”.
The amendment, tabled by rebel Tory leader Dominic Grieve, forces Theresa May to come back to Parliament with a Plan B within three sitting days if her EU deal – as expected – is voted down next Tuesday.
But former Attorney General Mr Grieve also revealed all MPs will be free to attach their own rival plans for Brexit when Parliament votes on the PM’s new way forward, from a softer Norway-style Brexit to a second referendum.
The Remain-backing rebel Tory MPs sided with Labour to defeat the Government for the second time in two days yesterday to enforce the amendment, by 308 to 297.
The controversy sparked a near riot in Parliament as Brexiteers shouted their fury at the Speaker.
Amid scenes of chaos on the Commons floor, one livid Cabinet minister confronted Mr Bercow just before PMQs to accuse him of being “totally out of order”.
The Sun can reveal that seething Chief Whip Julian Smith – one of Mrs May’s closest lieutenants – accused Mr Bercow of “throwing centuries of precedence in the bin to thwart the referendum result”.
Mr Bercow hit back to tell Mr Smith that he wouldn’t be “bullied” by Government whips.
Another senior Tory MP, Crispin Blunt, insisted Mr Bercow’s decision meant “the referee is no longer neutral”.
Backbench Conservatives, who have long suspected the Commons boss is biased against Brexit, mounted a fresh bid to oust Mr Bercow last night.
John Bercow row Q&A
WHAT decision did he take?
Mr Bercow allowed an amendment from Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve to a Government motion on the terms of the Brexit deal debate. It will force Mrs May to announce her Plan B within three days if MPs vote down her Brexit deal next week.
Why did his officials object?
They pointed to the long-standing precedent that government motions can be amended only by a government minister. Mr Grieve is a backbench MP.
How was he able to overrule?
He claimed he was standing up for the rights and will of the Commons, declaring: “If we were guided only by precedent, nothing would ever change.”
Why were Brexiteers angry?
They accused the self-confessed Remainer of bias which will thwart efforts to deliver Brexit.
What does it mean?
It gives MPs a greater role over the withdrawal process, threatening to soften Brexit.
Also during an another day of high drama in Westminster:
- Desperate Theresa May offered MPs new Brexit powers to limit the Irish backstop to just 12 months or veto it altogether in a last ditch bid to back her deal.
- Labour said Brexit may have to be delayed, as it’s “simply not viable” to pass any deal in time to meet the March 29 deadline.
- A cancer-suffering Tory MP received a death threat for joining a Tory rebellion, that read “Prepare to die”.
While delighting the Tory rebels, the Speaker infuriated Brexiteers who insisted on grilling him for an hour in the Commons.
One senior eurosceptic, Mark Francois, told him: “I have been here for 18 years and I have never known any occasion when any Speaker has overruled a motion of the House of Commons”.
Refusing to sit down, Mr Francois went on to shout “sophistry” and “ridiculous” at the Speaker.
As the chaos worsened, that sparked a counter attack from the Tory rebels, as veteran former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke stood to tell Mr Francois to “don a yellow jacket and go outside”, in a reference to Paris tioters.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom also demanded Mr Bercow publish the Clerk’s advice, but he refused – insisting it was “private”.
After a barrage of abuse, the Speaker finally admitted he had broken long-standing precedent to allow the amendment, but insisted it was only to “champion the rights of the House of Commons”.
Saying he was “trying to do the right thing”, Mr Bercow added: “If we were guided only by precedent, nothing would ever change”.
A total of 17 Tory rebels aligned with Labour to inflict the second Brexit defeat on the Government in as many days and the seventh in total.
They included 14 former ministers, and were joined by all but one Labour MP to defeat the Government by 308 to 297, a majority of 22.
Mr Grieve said the move is to stop No10 running down the clock for a no deal, with just 78 days to go until Brexit takes place.
It came as MPs restarted a landmark five day debate on the Brexit deal yesterday.
Under the previous rules agreed by all MPs, Mrs May had 21 days to come back to Parliament with a fresh option if her unpopular deal is shot down, as expected.
Downing Street said it was “surprised” Mr Grieve’s amendment was allowed to go ahead, as that also contradicted their advice from clerks.
But the PM’s official spokesman added: “Our intention has always been to respond quickly and provide certainty on the way forward in the event that we lose the meaningful vote, and that is what we will do”.
But other Brexiteers insisted Mrs May could shake it off by simply doing the basic minimum.
Leading Tory Leaver Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “The vote that the Government has just lost does not affect Brexit. It merely requires a motion to be tabled not even debated”.
Mr Bercow’s decision to select Mr Grieve’s amendment was condemned by constitutional experts last night, while even the former Speaker Baroness Boothroyd rebuked him.
She questioned Mr Bercow’s integrity and even suggested he had been dishonest with MPs by using his officials as cover for the decision.
5 John Bercow controversies
- He used his position as Speaker to voice his opposition to Donald Trump addressing Parliament during at state visit.
- He was accused of bullying two former staff members, one of whom was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after less than a year working for Mr Bercow. He has denied the allegations.
- Mr Bercow was last year caught calling Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom a “stupid woman” in the chamber.
- The Speaker publicly revealed he voted Remain in the referendum – despite his role meaning he should be impartial. One of the cars parked in his Commons parking space has a “Bollocks to Brexit” bumber sticker on it, which he says is his wife’s.
- Mr Bercow has faced repeated questions over his expenses during his time as Speaker, including a taxpayer-funded £37,000 portrait of himself. He is also the only remaining recipient of the gold-plated pension handed to “great offices of state” – worth £1 million. The other holders of the offices gave it up years ago.
Baroness Boothroyd – one of the most respected Speakers in the history of the Commons, blasted: “He put the clerks in an invidious position, he gave the impression they went along with him. He didn’t come clean with the House.
“He should have been very honest with the House and said I have created a precedent. The onus is on me.
“I was very sad as someone who has sat in that chair to see there were points of order, screaming at each other for an hour and a quarter.”
Evan Paul Silk, a senior former clerk who wrote the authoritative ‘How Parliament Works’ book, said Mr Bercow’s move had undermined the entire ethos of how the Commons operates.
He wrote on Twitter: “Predictability is essential in any rules-based body.
“Parliamentary procedure should change, but unilateral action isn’t the way to do it.”
He added: Good outcomes do not justify bad means.”
Tory MPs were last night plotting a fresh bid to oust Speaker John Bercow over his anti-Brexit bias.
A group of backbenchers met to discuss how to force a vote of no confidence.
It was one of a number of plots being discussed by Tory MPs last night over how to thwart the Speaker.
Another motion proposed would dock 10 per cent of Mr Bercow’s £143,000 salary and cut his gold-plated pension – equivalent to half his salary after he steps down.
And a third motion being considered would foce Mr Bercow to publish all advice and communication between him and his officials over his decision to select the contentious amendment yesterday.
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Meanwhile former minister Crispin Blunt confronted the Speaker in the chamber as he told him his time was up.
He told Mr Bercow: “For many of us we will now have an unshakeable conviction that the referee of our affairs, not least because you gave your opinion and your vote on the issue of Brexit publicly, that we we will have an unshakeable conviction that the referee is no longer neutral.
“I just invite you to reflect on the conclusion that many of us will have inevitably have come to.”
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