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Who is John Bercow, the Sudden Saviour of Sanity?

12 4 1
25.03.2019

Despite her best efforts to run down the Brexit clock, on 12th March Theresa May was forced by the UK House of Commons to abandon her Brexit deal, told she could not leave without a deal under any circumstances and sent back to the EU to negotiate an extension to the deadline for implementing the UK’s Article 50 notice, the formal letter announcing it would be leaving the EU on March 29th.

Undeterred, she was intending the present her dead deal again, despite the fact it had been resoundingly defeated twice, hoping MPs could be bullied into accepting it due to the short time left to conclude some sort of deal. After all, they were the ones who had said there must be some deal before the UK leaves.

Unfortunately, a number of MPs were convinced by this argument, and there was a real chance that the deal would pass at the third attempt on the grounds that it was the only one Theresa was going to put on the table. There was a sense that it was time to bow to the inevitable, as they had made their protest for as long as they could.

What every commentator, and certainly every government minister, seems to have forgotten is that the House of Commons has a Speaker, whose job it is to make sure that every item of the House’s business is conducted according to its own rules. In a way, this is understandable. The importance of these rules, and accompanying conventions, is often obscured because the rules the public generally see are rather arcane ones.

For example, the Speaker can call the members by their names, but the members are obliged to refer to other members as the “honourable member” or “right honourable member” for the place which elected them. Similarly, MPs can never resign their seats, but also cannot hold an “Office of Profit Under the Crown” (i.e., one whose salary is paid directly by the monarch). A member wishing to vacate their seat therefore applies to become either “Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds” or “Steward of the Manor of Northstead”, is appointed, and then disqualified from sitting as an MP, at which point they also resign their new “Office of Profit.”

But the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, would be out of a job if he didn’t know all the strange byways of the thousand page book called “Erskine May”, in which all the Commons rules are recorded. On the 18th March, without consulting the government or anyone else, he announced that he wanted to read a statement to the House.

In this, he quoted the clause of Erskine May which states that the government cannot simply keep presenting the same motion in the same session of parliament when it has already been rejected. He argued that the first presentation of the deal was valid, and the second was allowable because the terms of it had changed enough to make it a separate motion.

But Mr. Speaker, as the House calls him, ruled that the deal cannot be presented for yet another vote in this session unless it is significantly altered. The House has voted on it already, so the House’s decision is binding. It cannot be presented again, without significant changes, in this session of parliament, particularly as it has already been rejected by 149 votes

Who is this man who has plunged the UK into a constitutional crisis, and probably changed the course of history, in a ten-minute statement? Why did no one see it coming? And can anyone overrule him, find a way around his statement, or claim it doesn’t matter?

Backed out of a corner and into the........

© New Eastern Outlook