Boris Johnson threatens to shelve Brexit vote if John Bercow lets MPs amend it

Posted On: 
21st October 2019

Boris Johnson will axe a vote on his Brexit deal if Speaker John Bercow lets MPs render it "meaningless" by amending it, Downing Street has warned.

Boris Johnson and John Bercow
Credit: 
PA

The Prime Minister is planning to bring his EU agreement before the Commons on Monday for a fresh 'meaningful vote', while the Government is also intending to hold a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill - turning the agreement into law - on Tuesday.

But he faces a number of hurdles to holding a straight vote on the pact, with Speaker John Bercow widely expected to rule the PM cannot bring back the same question it asked MPs to consider on Saturday, when they scuppered his plans by instead ordering him to seek a fresh delay from the European Union.

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And even if he does allow the vote to take place, Mr Bercow could also select amendments to the Government motion from MPs, as happened with Sir Oliver Letwin's succesful amendment at the weekend.

If that happens then Mr Johnson would simply pull the motion altogether.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The meaningful vote will go ahead if the Speaker allows it.

"And if not, and amendments are selected which would render the vote pointless, there's no point having a meaningless vote. The Government would pull the motion."

He added that MPs must vote on “a clean choice”.

Asked about whether a 'meaningful vote' took place on Saturday given their motion was amended, the spokesman said: “The only vote that took place on Saturday was essentially to delay the moment of decision on the deal.

“In terms of Parliamentary approval for the Prime Minister’s deal the vote on Saturday was meaningless.”

And, confirming that the PM would be able to pull the motion if Mr Bercow selected an amendment to be debated, the spokesman added: “It is for the Government to move its own motion.”

Meanwhile, Labour is readying amendments to Tuesday's vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would demand continued membership of the EU's customs union and backing for a second EU referendum.

But Number 10 warned any bid to add such clauses could put the deal's ratification process with the EU in doubt, and hinted the bill could also be pulled.

The spokesman argued that while neither such amendments to the Brexit deal have yet been tabled, as the legislation is still to be published, they could irreparably damage it.

He said: “Essentially if the legislation in the House of Commons steps too far away from what was agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration that does bring into question ratification.”

The DUP's Jim Shannon earlier downplayed talk that his party - which has vowed to vote against Mr Johnson's Brexit agreement - could back Labour's customs union bid.

"We are clear where we stand on the customs union as something we cannot support and will not support and I believe that will be the stance we have later on," he told Sky News.

EU CONSIDERS DELAY REQUEST

Monday's Commons showdown comes after MPs used a special Saturday sitting of Parliament to effectively kill off the Government's attempts to hold a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit agreement.

Instead, the Commons backed Mr Letwin's amendment that sought to act as an "insurance policy" against a no-deal Brexit by withholding backing until all the legislation needed to make the deal law has been approved.

Mr Johnson on Saturday night sent a series of letters to the EU in a bid to comply with the Benn Act.

But while a photocopied and unsigned letter requested the three-month extension mandated under the Act, a separate covering letter spoke out against an extension.

A European Commission spokesperson said on Monday that the format of the letters did not change the fact that the Prime Minister had formally requested an Article 50 delay.

But they confirmed that the EU was also taking steps to ratify the deal agreed by the two sides.

The Commission spokesperson said: "[European Council] President Tusk is now consulting leaders of the EU27 on this and it is first and foremost for the UK to explain the next steps. We from our side, of course, follow all the events in London this week very closely.

"What I can also add, the ratification process has been launched on the EU side. Michel Barnier debriefed EU ambassadors of the EU27 yesterday and he will debrief the European parliament’s Brexit steering group this afternoon in Strasbourg. And as I mentioned, he will also debrief the college of commissioners.

"The request to extend article 50 was made by the UK’s permanent representative to the EU. President Tusk acknowledged receipt of the request on Saturday and stated that he’s now consulting with  the EU27. So this form does not change anything.