Monday 21 October 2019

Bercow issues fresh warning over May's bid for third meaningful Brexit vote

Speaker John Bercow. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Speaker John Bercow. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Richard Wheeler, Jennifer McKiernan, Josh Thomas and Elizabeth Arnold

John Bercow has issued a fresh warning that substantial changes are required to allow a third meaningful vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

The Commons Speaker insisted the Government must "meet the test of change" having previously ruled that another meaningful vote would not be accepted for consideration without substantial changes, which he indicated should include a negotiated change with the EU.

His remarks came before Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay revealed the Government would table a motion to enable the Commons to sit on Friday as it bids to secure approval for its deal.

Mr Bercow also selected eight of the 16 Brexit alternative proposals tabled for consideration under the indicative vote process.

They include a referendum on any Brexit deal passed by Parliament, a new version of the common market, no deal and revoking Article 50.

Votes are expected from 7pm.

Speaking before the debate on the Brexit alternatives, Mr Bercow said: "I understand the Government may be thinking about bringing a third meaningful vote before the House either tomorrow or even on Friday, if the House opts to sit that day.

"Therefore, in order there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the Government to meet the test of change.

"They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a notwithstanding or a paving motion, the tabling office has been instructed no such motion would be accepted."

Responding to Mr Bercow's statement, a Government source said outside the chamber that the Speaker was "making it up as he goes along".

Mr Barclay later told MPs: "In order to maximise our ability to secure that approval the Government will, later today, table a motion for the House to sit this Friday."

He added: "While I appreciate it may cause some inconvenience, I hope all members would agree that it's better to have it and to not need it, than to need it and not have it."

Tory former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, who led efforts to allow MPs to seize control of the Commons agenda, earlier denied he is leading an "insurgency" and maintained he supports the Government's Withdrawal Agreement.

He said of the indicative vote procedure: "Should meaningful vote three pass on Thursday or Friday, there would be no further need for the whole of this process."

Speaking in favour of the no-deal amendment, Tory MP John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) said: "Let's back this country and if we can't get a good deal, then let's actually get back to economic reality and realise we already trade profitably with the majority of the world's GDP outside the EU on WTO terms, there is no reason we can't trade within the EU on such terms."

Tory former minister Nick Boles, speaking in favour of Common Market 2.0, said he wanted to make the case for "compromise".

He said: "After years of paralysing conflict we have a moral duty to open our minds this afternoon and reach for a compromise that will allow us to put the interminable Brexit row behind us."

For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said his party would whip its MPs to back its alternative plan amendment, Tory former minister Ken Clarke's customs union measure, and Labour former minister Dame Margaret Beckett's call for a confirmatory public vote.

He said of Dame Margaret's amendment M: "At this stage it's now clear that any Brexit deal agreed in this Parliament needs further democratic approval."

Father of the House Mr Clarke said he will vote for what he "can live with", saying the UK is "doomed to leave" the EU in the next two or three years.

Outlining support for the common market idea, he said: "My duty now is to exercise my judgment as to what is the national interest that will minimise the damaging consequences and perhaps save some of the better features for future generations."

Mr Barclay criticised the amendments brought forward, saying none of them delivered the same benefits as the Prime Minister's deal which, he said, remains the best option.

Mr Barclay said: "What we see from the amendments before the house is a range of sub-optimal solutions which either don't deliver on the referendum result or do so in a way that doesn't deliver the benefits of the Prime Minister's deal.

"That is why the Prime Minister's deal remains the best way of meeting the biggest vote in our history, delivering on that referendum result, and doing so in a way that is best for protecting business."

Tory MP George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) spoke about Motion H which, he said:"Involves leaving the European union, but re-joining the European Free Trade Association and relying on our existing rights under the treaty establishing the EEA.

"It differs from the common market 2.0 proposal in a couple of important areas.

"Firstly it does not envisage the need for a customs union, and secondly it does not necessarily require the existing withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister has been putting to the House."

Mr Eustice said using existing treaties would avoid the need to "wade through treacle" with EU legislation which, he acknowledged, moved at a "glacial pace".

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