The Speaker takes control
With the Article 50 deadline fast approaching, the sometimes-controversial Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, produced a masterful performance in this game of personal agendas. Planting himself on the front page of the Tuesday morning papers, citing a ruling from 1604 that had not been used since 1920, Bercow said the Brexit deal could not return to the House of Commons for a third “meaningful vote” without substantial changes.
Whilst this does not make it impossible for the government to bring back a motion as the Speaker’s ruling could be overruled by MPs in a vote or avoided through a variety of loopholes, but it did make it impossible for the government to do so this week. After failing to gain the support of the DUP for the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal at the start of the week, it was expected that Theresa May would have to abandon a third vote and head to Brussels to beg EU leaders for a delay. Mr Bercow’s intervention made sure that this was the only option available and demonstrates the lack of control the current Government has over Parliament.
MPs will likely have to vote on the deal for a third time next week, challenging the government to look for ways around the Speaker’s ruling. Whether there is any point to voting on the same deal for a third time deserves an entire article of its own, since as it stands, May is heading for another heavy defeat. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that favours will be offered behind closed doors to gain support for the vote, only further increasing the power of backbenchers in Parliament. The chances of any substantial changes to the agreement being made are very slim, arguably the extension now negotiated will fall into the hands of Brexiteers who can run down the clock with a no-deal Brexit on the horizon.
No one likes being blamed for something they didn’t do. That was certainly the feeling in the House of Commons on Thursday, with MPs from all political parties uniting to condemn Theresa May’s speech the previous evening. Mrs May blamed her request for an extension to Article 50 on MPs, telling the pubic she is “on their side”. Speaker John Bercow nobly came to the defence of MPs reassuring the House of Commons that they are not enemies of the state, whilst Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, called for MPs to be treated with respect and dignity.
Following the damning speech Mrs May made on Wednesday, some even suggested that she would resign. Unfortunately for many hopeful Tories, the battle-worn Prime Minister is still ploughing on and even apologised for her remarks on Thursday. Nevertheless, plenty of Eurosceptic MPs are hoping that May will offer up her leadership in exchange for their support. With the need to get the deal passed by the end of next week to avoid a no deal Brexit, this still remains a possibility. Talks with the DUP will continue over the next week, and the success of these will have a great bearing on the chances of the deal getting passed before the 29th of March.
Are we there yet?
Returning to Brussels on Thursday, with Eurosceptic MPs nipping at her heels, Theresa May pleaded with the EU27 to delay Brexit for 3 months until the 30th of June. However, the defiant EU leaders politely declined Mrs May’s request, offering instead to delay Brexit until the 22nd of May, but only if MPs approve the deal next week. If this does not happen, the delay will only be until the 12th of April when the UK will have to figure out a new strategy or leave with no deal. People voted for Brexit to take back control of their country’s future, for now this continues to be decided in Brussels…
Our condolences go to those working for British parties in the European Parliament who were hoping to return home next week, guess you will have to stay in the Brussels Bubble just a bit longer. If Brexit somehow manages to be delayed past the 26th of May (nothing is impossible), the UK will have to host European elections and busy British MEPs will be back in employment.
EU leaders irritated
It is most unlikely that delaying Article 50 and further redirecting EU and Member States’ resources towards Brexit negotiations will create a renewed sense of enthusiasm from EU leaders. Continuing the prevailing trend of recent months, European leaders held all the cards on Thursday.
The EU27 kindly approved the tweaks May and Juncker made this month in the ‘Strasbourg agreement’. Yet Mrs May faced interrogation by European leaders, with Emmanuel Macron leading the charge and bluntly asking her, ‘are you prepared for a no deal?’ Most of those in the room were not particularly optimistic on the chances of the deal being passed next week. There were even rumours that the Italian government was going to veto the request for an extension, a favour from the populist Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, to his friend Nigel Farage. At a rather amusing press conference on Thursday evening, Donald Tusk reminded us that there is still plenty of space in Hell for members of the House of Commons who don’t vote for Brexit next week.
The price we pay for ‘freedom’
Work continues within the corridors of Whitehall preparing the UK for Brexit – it was revealed that officials have set up in a bunker under the Ministry of Defence that is usually used for national emergency planning in preparation for a no deal.
With Brexit delayed the question remains, when will the UK be able to return to focusing on domestic issues and does the civil service have the capacity to do so? Entire teams across a range of departments have been reallocated to focus on Brexit, making it inevitable that domestic policy will suffer as a result. Not just solely relying on the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Government has also drawn on the significant resources of the DIT, BEIS, Defra, the Home Office and HRMC to cover tasks required both for contingency plans and for the upcoming trade negotiations. With £3 billion being set aside for Brexit over the next few years, it is scary to think about where this money could be used. The British economy has lost around 2% of GDP since the Brexit referendum according to the Bank of England, the delay to Brexit will continue this trend.
This week has been a chaotic mess, but one which we have come to expect as the UK continues to play out this dramatic soap opera. Where the country will be next week will unfortunately be the topic of debate in pubs up and down the country this weekend.