It was hardly a surprise that this afternoon John Bercow ruled out allowing the government to bring back its meaningful vote on Brexit. Still less of a surprise that this ruling took up nearly an hour in the Commons of points of order from MPs on all sides making points which changed the minds of no-one, and certainly not the Speaker.
The Speaker’s argument was as the one the Tories had been preparing for over the weekend: he ruled that it would be ‘repetitive and disorderly’ to hold a second vote on the same motion. What they perhaps hadn’t prepared for was the Speaker doing a series of impersonations of former parliamentary greats such as Tony Benn and Willie Whitelaw. Nevertheless, the session went well for almost everyone there.
The Conservatives used a series of points of order, as well as an official briefing afterwards, to argue that the Speaker was blocking the will of the people. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists that ‘We are disappointed that the Speaker has denied us the chance to deliver on the will of the people. The public want Brexit done.’ The theatre of the afternoon allowed the Tories to distract from the fact that Boris Johnson has had to do the thing he swore he wouldn’t, which was to send the letters asking for an extension, and that the government made a mess of things on Saturday. The vote itself wasn’t essential, given ministers can use tomorrow’s votes on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill as a means of getting the Commons’ consent. That they bothered to even try getting another meaningful vote underlines that there was a political exercise underway here.
As for opposition MPs, well, this prolonged and tedious session of points of order worked for them too, as they were able to make their own party political broadcasts about the need for a second referendum and about how the Prime Minister had indeed been forced to send the extension letters.
Of course, the person who benefitted the most from the whole occasion was Bercow, who had an hour of doing his very best impression of a Jane Austen character, while the whole chamber paid attention to him. Given the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is being pushed back further and further by these points of order and urgent questions in the Chamber (including one which involved Jeremy Corbyn asking the government why it hadn’t published the legislation), which means even less time to read it before tomorrow’s debates begin, the biggest loser from the session so far has been scrutiny, something MPs claim they are in favour of.