Mr Speaker takes con­trol Brexit re­ports

An­other dam­ag­ing de­feat for May as Ber­cow hands power over Brexit process to the Com­mons

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

JOHN BER­COW seized con­trol of the Brexit process from Theresa May and handed it to MPS as the Prime Min­is­ter suf­fered her se­cond hu­mil­i­at­ing Com­mons de­feat in as many days.

The Speaker ig­nored le­gal ad­vice and par­lia­men­tary prece­dent to al­low a vote that gives Mrs May just three days to present a Plan B for Brexit if she loses the “mean­ing­ful vote” next Tues­day.

MPS voted 308-297 for an amend­ment tabled by Do­minic Grieve and backed by 16 Con­ser­va­tives in­clud­ing for­mer min­is­ters Sir Oliver Letwin, Jus­tine Green­ing and Ken­neth Clarke.

More con­cern­ing for Mrs May, the re­sult means if she pre­sents a Plan B any vote will be amend­able. Tory rebels and Labour could ef­fec­tively take Brexit out of her hands by hold­ing a se­ries of votes, with the Speaker’s help, to dic­tate what she should do next.

Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit sec­re­tary, gave a flavour of what Labour might try to force on the Prime Min­is­ter yes­ter­day when he said it “may well be in­evitable” that Ar­ti­cle 50 would have to be ex­tended.

Mr Ber­cow’s de­ci­sion to al­low yes­ter­day’s vote, which min­is­ters had thought im­pos­si­ble, caused uproar and ac­cu­sa­tions that he was try­ing to halt Brexit.

Last night Tories were plot­ting re­venge with a plan to ta­ble mo­tions propos­ing that Mr Ber­cow’s pay be docked or his gilt-edged pen­sion re­moved.

Mrs May sought to fight back by promis­ing MPS a vote on whether the Gov­ern­ment would en­ter the Ir­ish back­stop or ex­tend the Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod if they backed her deal. But the move was dis­missed by politi­cians on both sides as it con­tra­dicted the EU With­drawal Agree­ment, which will be bind­ing in in­ter­na­tional law if passed by Par­lia­ment.

Mrs May made a des­per­ate move to win back the sup­port of the DUP by promis­ing the North­ern Ire­land As­sem­bly a veto over el­e­ments of the Brexit plan. The DUP said the of­fer was purely cos­metic, partly be­cause the As­sem­bly had been sus­pended for two years. Less than 24 hours af­ter Tory rebels in­flicted a de­feat on Mrs May that will re­strict her pow­ers in the event of no deal, she was beaten once again via an amend­ment to a Com­mons mo­tion that min­is­ters had thought “bomb proof ”.

Mr Grieve, the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral, sub­mit­ted the amend­ment to a mo­tion in­tro­duc­ing a five-day de­bate on the deal on Tues­day, though he be­lieved he stood lit­tle chance of suc­cess.

Mr Ber­cow was told by his staff that the amend­ment could not be tabled, and was given le­gal ad­vice by Sir David Nat­zler, the Clerk of the Com­mons, to the same ef­fect. But he went against their ad­vice and al­lowed MPS to vote on Mr Grieve’s mo­tion, in­sist­ing he had the power to ig­nore prece­dent as “prece­dent can be bro­ken”. It prompted Tory Brex­i­teers to de­mand Mr Ber­cow pub­lish notes of the le­gal ad­vice he re­ceived and some MPS to de­mand he re­sign.

An­drea Lead­som MP said Mr Ber­cow’s ac­tions set a “dam­ag­ing prece­dent”, telling ITV’S Pe­ston show that the Speaker had to “show the great­est level of im­par­tial­ity”. She said: “What hap­pened to­day is in­stead of be­ing the guardian of the rules, he de­cided uni- lat­er­ally to change them.”

Tory MPS were try­ing to gather sig­na­tures for a mo­tion that would cut Mr Ber­cow’s £152,896 pay by 10 per cent or strip him of his pen­sion, which adds half of his Speaker’s top-up salary to his MP’S pen­sion. The ex­tra pay­ment is worth £38,442 per year.

Down­ing Street last night con­firmed it had ac­cepted an amend­ment that would give MPS the right to vote on whether to en­ter the back­stop ar­range­ment, ex­tend the tran­si­tion pe­riod or limit the back­stop to 12 months. Of­fi­cials in Brus­sels pointed out that if Par­lia­ment agreed the Brexit deal, it could not be over­rid­den or amended, mean­ing Mrs May’s of­fer to MPS would have no le­gal ba­sis. To­day Mrs May hosts Shinzo Abe, Ja­pan’s prime min­is­ter, who has said he wants to avoid no deal.

THE seeds of the ex­tra­or­di­nary con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis trig­gered by John Ber­cow were sown on Tues­day af­ter­noon, when the Speaker found him­self locked in a row with Com­mons of­fi­cials.

The tabling of­fice, the group of of­fi­cials that de­cides which amend­ments end up on the or­der pa­per, har­boured sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about one by Do­minic Grieve, a pro-eu­ro­pean Tory MP and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The of­fi­cials ar­gued that the amend­ment, which stated that Theresa May must re­turn to the Com­mons for an­other vote within three days if her Brexit deal was voted down, and handed more power to Par­lia­ment, was in breach of the rules.

The gov­ern­ment busi­ness mo­tion he was try­ing to amend, they said, was un­a­mend­able. Mr Ber­cow, how­ever, dis­agreed with his of­fi­cials, and took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of us­ing a de­vice known as a “Speaker’s in­struc­tion” to force it on to the or­der pa­per.

The Gov­ern­ment, un­aware of Mr Ber­cow’s role in get­ting the amend­ment on the or­der pa­per in the first place, ini­tially as­sumed there was no way he could se­lect it.

Sir David Nat­zler, the clerk of the Com­mons, ad­vised Mr Ber­cow yes­ter­day morn­ing that the Grieve amend­ment “should not be touched” be­cause it went against the “stand­ing orders of the House”. Mr Ber­cow was told twice by the clerks that the amend­ment should not be ac­cepted. How­ever, a source said he was “livid” and re­fused to ac­cept their ad­vice, re­fer­ring to them as a “gag­gle”.

Mr Ber­cow went ahead and se­lected the amend­ment be­fore head­ing di­rectly for the cham­ber. Shortly be­fore Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions, Ju­lian Smith, the Chief Whip, ap­proached Mr Ber­cow in the Speaker’s chair to chal­lenge his de­ci­sion.

Al­low­ing the amend­ment to be tabled, he ar­gued, would dam­age Par­lia­ment. He was dis­missed by Mr Ber­cow, who was over­heard say­ing that he wouldn’t be “bul­lied” by Con­ser­va­tive whips. A gov­ern­ment source said: “This just goes to show the ex­tent to which the Speaker will do all he can to pre­vent the ref­er­en­dum re­sult be­ing im­ple­mented. He will end up dam­ag­ing democ­racy.”

As Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions came to an end, MPS re­mained for the points of or­der, which of­fered them a chance to chal­lenge Mr Ber­cow di­rectly. It lasted for an hour and eight min­utes, with in­ter­ven­tions from 38 MPS.

Mr Ber­cow in­sisted he was well within his re­mit, sug­gest­ing that MPS had no right to ques­tion his de­ci­sion.

“It is the long-es­tab­lished prac­tice of this house that the Speaker in the chair makes judg­ments on the se­lec­tion of amend­ments, and those judg­ments are not ques­tioned by mem­bers of the House,” he said. “I am clear in my mind that I have taken the right course.” Mark Fran­cois, a vice-chair­man of the Eu­ro­pean Re­search Group of Tory Euroscep­tic MPS, ac­cused Mr Ber­cow of “sophistry”. “I have not been in this House as long as you, but I have been here for 18 years and I have never known any oc­ca­sion when any Speaker has over­ruled a mo­tion of the House of Com­mons,” he said.

Mr Ber­cow re­sponded with a tech­ni­cal­ity. “We’re not speak­ing here of a mo­tion but of an amend­ment to a mo­tion. I’m sorry but there is a dis­tinc­tion be­tween a mo­tion and an amend­ment.”

An­drea Lead­som, the Leader of the Com­mons, homed in on the ad­vice Mr Ber­cow had been given by Sir David, ask­ing him to pub­lish it.

Mr Ber­cow con­firmed he con­sulted the clerk and of­fi­cials, say­ing the ad­vice was given to him “pri­vately and that’s ab­so­lutely proper”. On the other side of the de­bate, Ken Clarke, the for­mer Cab­i­net min­is­ter and a pro-eu­ro­pean Tory MP, said it was “un­be­liev­able” that MPS were at­tempt­ing to stop the Com­mons from ex­press­ing its views on the mat­ter.

He said: “I would sug­gest to some of my hon­ourable friends – the ones that are get­ting some­what overex­cited – that per­haps they should don a yel­low jacket and go out­side.”

At this point, Tory Euroscep­tics turned on Mr Ber­cow him­self, ac­cus­ing him of fail­ing to act with im­par­tial­ity. Mr Ber­cow replied: “The fact is there is a re­spon­si­bil­ity upon the chair to do its best to stand up for the rights of the House of Com­mons in­clud­ing the views of dis­senters on the Gov­ern­ment benches ... and to de­fend the rights of op­po­si­tion and very small par­ties as well.”

Adam Hol­loway, a Tory MP, ac­cused

‘I would sug­gest to some of my hon­ourable friends that per­haps they should don a yel­low jacket and go out­side’

‘We’re not speak­ing here of a mo­tion, but of an amend­ment to a mo­tion. Sorry, there is a dis­tinc­tion’

Mr Ber­cow of hav­ing a “deroga­tory” sticker about Brexit in his car which states “B------- to Brexit”.

Mr Ber­cow said: “That sticker on the sub­ject of Brexit hap­pens to be af­fixed to or in the wind­screen of my wife’s car, and I’m sure he wouldn’t sug­gest for one mo­ment that a wife is some­how the prop­erty or chat­tel of her hus­band. She is en­ti­tled to her views, that sticker is not mine and that’s the end of it.”

Baroness Boothroyd, the for­mer Com­mons Speaker, said: “He should have been very hon­est with the House and said ‘I have cre­ated a prece­dent’.”

The Speaker in full flow as he was ques­tioned by MPS on his de­ci­sion to al­low yes­ter­day’s amend­ment

John Ber­cow is chal­lenged by MPS in a ses­sion last­ing more than an hour. The con­flict came af­ter he chose to set aside ad­vice by Sir David Nat­zler, the clerk of the Com­mons, front left, wear­ing glasses

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.