Ministers accuse John Bercow of trying to 'sabotage' Theresa May's Brexit deal

Posted On: 
19th March 2019

Ministers have accused John Bercow of trying to "sabotage" Theresa May's Brexit deal after he moved to stop the Government from holding a third vote on it.

A Government source accused the Commons Speaker of "antics" that would make Brexit "far harder".
Credit: 
PA

The Speaker stunned Westminster on Monday when he cited parliamentary convention to say he would not allow a third meaningful vote on “substantially the same” motion as MPs rejected last week.

The move - which significantly raises the prospect of a long delay to Brexit - has caused fury inside Number 10 and led to accusations from ministers that the Speaker has triggered a "major constitutional crisis".

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A Government source told PoliticsHome: "It was our intention to hold the vote this week - on Wednesday if not Tuesday. He’s pretty much sunk that now with his antics.

"The uncertainty over when the vote will take place also makes it far harder to get MPs over the line.

"It’s a simple fact that - where deals get done - it’s usually at the last minute."

Solicitor general Robert Buckland meanwhile said: "We're in a major constitutional crisis here, a political crisis we want to solve for the country."

The Cabinet minister even raised the prospect of ending the currently parliamentary session in a bid to swerve the ruling, saying: "There are ways around [the ruling] - a prorogation of Parliament and a new session."

Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi meanwhile warned that the Speaker had now made it far more likely that Mrs May will have to request a lengthy delay to Brexit when she heads to Brussels for a summit on Thursday.

"What's material is now, what speaker Bercow has done, has made it much more likely that we don't deliver Brexit," he told the BBC's Newsnight.

"And that really does worry me because obviously the favourite option now is a much longer extension."

And Justice Minister Rory Stewart appeared to compare the Speaker to Humpty Dumpty as he accused Mr Bercow of making "the most complicated issue in our national life more complicated".

'VOTE STRIKES'

In a sign that a lengthy delay could cause major trouble for the Government, Conservative eurosceptics told The Sun that a long pause will "finish" the Prime Minister - and raised the prospect of trying to grind down the Government by refusing to take part in key votes.

One Conservative MP said: "If she tried to go ahead with a long extension, there will be vote strikes on all Government legislation.

"She will lose us, and lose us permanently if she goes ahead with this, and that has been made crystal clear to her."

But the Speaker's surprise intervention won the backing of leading Conservative Remain-supporter Dominic Grieve, who said Mr Bercow's decision had been "completely unassailable".

The former Attorney General told Newsnight: "It is a very long established convention.

"He's spelled out its age and antiquity and its repeated reiteration, right up to the 1920s and he suggested that after the 1920s the fact it hadn't been reiterated is that nobody had attempted to do this. I suspect he's right.

"So this is something on which I think his position is, in fact, completely unassailable. It is a proper interpretation of the convention."

'REJECTED'

Making a surprise statement to the Commons, Mr Bercow had warned the Government it could not "resubmit" the same motion that was defeated by 149 votes last week.

"It has been strongly rumoured that third and even fourth meaningful vote motions will be attempted, hence this statement which is designed to signal what would be orderly and what would not," he said.

"This is my conclusion: If the Government wishes to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same nor substantially the same that disposed of by the House on 12 March, this would be entirely in order.

"What the Government cannot legitimately do is to resubmit to the House the same proposition or substantially the same proposition as that of last week which was rejected by 149 votes."