Once again, the Commons has concluded its day with rather chaotic scenes involving Tory MPs having a scrap with John Bercow. The Speaker managed to refrain from insulting anyone’s abilities as a whip, but he nevertheless irritated those who want a third meaningful vote by insisting throughout a series of points of order that he was not contradicting himself when he said he would not allow Theresa May to bring her deal back to the Commons while also allowing for another day of indicative votes.
Some Conservative Brexiteers were angry that any more indicative votes are due to take place when the Commons has offered no one view tonight. But many more were annoyed about the implications for the Prime Minister’s deal, quoting Erskine May and the Speaker’s own words back at him. Former Tory chairman Patrick McLoughlin made two points of order about this, and was reinforced by chief whip Julian Smith, who was jabbing his finger at Bercow and shouting ‘answer!’ angrily. McLoughlin refused to sit down after his first point of order, which led to further uproar as Anna Soubry rose on the other side of the Chamber and tried to speak.
Bercow, unsurprisingly, stuck to his guns, telling MPs that they were not telling him anything he didn’t already know. It is by no means clear that May has the sufficient support to make bringing back the deal worthwhile in political terms, but Bercow is very clear that in procedural terms, there is currently no case for doing so.
A number of Tory MPs find Bercow’s manner deeply irritating at the moment. They consider him verbose and domineering, even when he is making valid points. But some of his supporters point out that in order to be as consistent as this Speaker has been in his attempt to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the government, he may feel he needs to become a caricature of himself, in the same way as seemingly reasonable teachers change persona when promoted to Deputy Head. It is much easier to weather these nightly uproars if you act with the thickest skin possible. But the length of the Tory points of order tonight seemed designed to try to wear Bercow down. It’s likely the uproar will just get longer in the coming days.