The British government has indicated that it could press ahead with plans for a vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial withdrawal agreement next week, despite a warning from the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, that only a significantly different agreement could be put to the House again.
The statement by Mr. Bercow on Monday afternoon caught MPs and Downing Street off guard, and threw a spanner in the government’s plans to hold two votes — one before an European Union (EU) Council meeting this week, and one after to try getting its deal through Parliament before Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29. Unless an extension is agreed to (or Article 50 is revoked) by both sides) Britain is set to leave the EU with or without a deal on that date.
Mr. Bercow’s warning that parliamentary votes carried “weight” and that the House could not be asked the same question infinitely means that the government won’t bring the withdrawal deal to MPs ahead of the Thursday meeting of the European Union Council. Even though the government looked set to lose the vote, there were hopes that with some MPs wavering, it could lose by a smaller margin and that this could help the government in extracting further concessions from the EU. However, without that recourse, the government will have to find a new strategy.
Vote next week
Downing Street has said that it is writing to EU Council president Donald Tusk to ask for an extension — initially till June 30 (just before July 2 when the new EU parliamentary session will open after May elections) but with the possibility of extending it further if the need arose, the BBC reported. It would then potentially hold a vote next week, potentially by asking MPs to vote to set aside the Bercow ruling, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay indicated on the BBC this morning.
In an astonishing display of the division at the heart of the British government, last week, Mr. Barclay voted against the government motion extending the Brexit deadline.
However, whether the EU will agree to give the U.K. more time is another matter altogether. It would take a veto from just one EU country to block an extension being given, and there are increasing signs of frustration from the continent.
“The clock is ticking and time is running out,” warned Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth, speaking to reporters in Brussels. Ahead of Thursday’s meeting Mr. Tusk reiterated “full EU unity,” on Brexit, as well as the group’s preparedness for a no-deal exit.
Even if the EU were to agree to an extension along the lines sought by Downing Street, it is far from given that the deal would pass next week. Many Brexiteers have continued to hold out — hopeful the U.K. could crash out of the EU on WTO terms.