How John Bercow could use little-known rule to stop Theresa May's third vote

Staff writer
Theresa May wants to put her Brexit deal to a parliamentary vote for a third time, having lost the first two votes by a wide margin

The PM endured another set of humiliating defeats in what were chaotic scenes in the Commons on Wednesday night, with four Cabinet and nine junior ministers abstaining from the Government's own no-deal amendment - and the prime minister telling an exasperated House that she would bring back her deal for a third 'meaningful vote'.

This time she told her MPs, vote down the deal and lose Brexit. What now happens is anyone's guess, but what is clear is this is shaping up to be the constitutional version of a Game of Thrones-style battle between a Government systematically being bleed of power by recalcitrant Tory rebels, and Parliament manoeuvring to assert its sovereign rights.

So, while some members of the ERG attacked the PM for attempting to 'blackmail' them into submission, everyone seems to have missed one very important parliamentary convention, that if invoked by the Speaker would strip Mrs May of the last vestiges of authority. It would be the final dagger through the Withdrawal Agreement.

So blink and you will have missed it, but as Sky News reported - the senior Labour backbencher, Angela Eagle, asked the Speaker whether: it is in order within the rules of the House of Commons for a motion to be brought back repeatedly even when it has been rejected by the House?

The Speaker replied: "No answer is required now but a ruling will be made about that matter at the appropriate time. I'm grateful to the right honourable lady for reminding me a ruling might be required".

What would happen next?

For those not versed in Erskine May, it means that; no bill having being rejected by MPs can be laid before the house again during one session (a year).

If the Speaker were to rule that the bill could not be bought back it would probably be met with glee from most MPs, weary of Mrs May's refusal to take no for an answer. But, it would unleash an almighty political row. According to Sky News, the convention has not been used since 1943 - because no government has flouted it - but those were in different times, and this is a Speaker in the last days of his term of office with nothing to lose.

The wider implication is that the PM would be locked out of the process and the Cabinet would surely force her to compromise or face being removed altogether. The Brexit process would then be left to the fractious groupings of MPs to come up with a compromise that would meet, at a minimum, the EU's terms for an Article 50 extension.

Failing that, Article 50 could be revoked before the clock strikes 11pm on the 29th March, while it may seem unlikely, it would not be impossible or out of step with the times we find ourselves in as a nation.