Are we looking at a case of déjà vu for Meaningful Vote 3 this week? It’s not just that Theresa May is currently on course for defeat (even with a string of Eurosceptics switching to back the deal the Prime Minister is short of votes). It also looks as though the government may not even be allowed to put the deal to a vote this week.
Last week, John Bercow threw a spanner in the works by announcing that he would not permit a Meaningful Vote 3 unless the deal underwent a substantial change. No. 10 hoped to bring back the deal this Friday for a third vote – with a paving motion being mooted as a way around the problem. However, this afternoon the House of Commons speaker issued a warning to those behind such a move. Bercow told MPs that for a vote to be allowed this Friday there would have to be a substantial change to the motion. He went on to say that he has told clerks to block any government attempts to get around his ruling by passing a paving motion – which consists of a one off rule change – to allow the vote to go ahead even if it defies Bercow’s original ruling.
So, where does this leave the government? It is still the case that Theresa May’s preferred scenario is to hold the vote by the end of this week – Tory MPs have been warned to keep their diaries free. The government could try and argue that the deal has now undergone significant changes – namely the fact the UK would leave April 12 under the deal now rather than March 29. There’s also a strand of thinking within government that if they have a majority in favour of the deal being voted on – and that’s still a big if – there will be a way for the House to express its will. The problem is the whips believe they need the time pressure of an imminent vote to get the final batch of MPs on side and have a majority in favour of the deal.
Bercow’s intervention serves as a reminder to May that even if she tried to hold the vote on Friday, there’s a chance she won’t be able to. This would have repercussions both for the length of the extension (the current agreement is contingent on May passing her deal this week) and the party. It’s unlikely that more time would help May – instead, it would give the cross-party group of MPs trying to seize control of both the Commons and Brexit more time to push alternative options.