May suffers another Commons Brexit defeat
Tory fury as Speaker John Bercow is accused of flouting the rules of the House.
Theresa May’s Brexit plans have received a major setback after she suffered a second damaging Commons defeat within 24 hours.
MPs backed an amendment demanding the Government return within three sitting days with a new plan if it is defeated in next week’s crunch vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
The House voted by 308 to 297 in favour of the amendment tabled by the pro-Remain Tory MP Dominic Grieve with the support of other Conservative rebels.
Earlier there were furious scenes in the chamber as other Tory MPs angrily accused Speaker John Bercow of flouting Commons rules in allowing the vote to go ahead.
A series of MPs rose to complain that the Government motion should not have been amendable.
But Mr Bercow defended his decision saying: “My understanding is the motion is amendable, I’m clear in my mind about that.”
Amid jeers and heckles from the Tory benches, he said: “I’m trying to do the right thing and make the right judgments.
“That is what I have tried to do and what I will go on doing.”
The vote came hard on the heels of Tuesday night’s Commons defeat for the Government on a motion intended to limit its powers to change taxes in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A senior Downing Street source said they were “surprised” Mr Bercow permitted the division as ministers had received advice the business motion was unamendable.
The source declined to say whether the advice had come from Commons clerks, but made clear the Government could draw on expertise from beyond its own ranks in such cases.
Previously, the Government had three weeks to bring forward new proposals if it is defeated in the meaningful vote on Tuesday with a further vote to take place a week later.
The No 10 source said the Prime Minister had always intended to respond quickly if she loses the vote.
“We are doing everything we can to win the meaningful vote on Tuesday,” the source said.
“But it is also the intention if that were not to take place, that we would respond quickly and provide certainty on the way forward following that vote.”
Nevertheless the vote will be seen as another blow to the Prime Minister’s authority as she struggles to win support for her Withdrawal Agreement.
It took place at the start of five days of debate in the Commons after she dramatically pulled a vote last month following a warning by the whips that she was facing certain defeat.
Mr Grieve said the amendment was an attempt to “accelerate the process” if the vote was lost so as to avoid the prospects of a no-deal Brexit.
“I realise there are a few of my colleagues who believe that if the Government’s deal is rejected we should simply do nothing and leave the EU on March 29 with no deal at all and with all, to my mind, the calamitous consequences that would follow on from it,” he told the BBC.
“I disagree with that, and so I think do the vast majority of Members of Parliament.
“The only way we can move forward if the Government’s deal is not acceptable to Parliament is for Parliament to engage with Government and find a solution, which is what I am trying to do.”
In the Commons, Tory anger was directed towards Mr Bercow who many MPs have long suspected is unduly sympathetic to the Remain cause.
For many of us we will now have an unshakeable conviction that the referee of our affairs … is no longer neutral Crispin Blunt MP
Amid chaotic scenes, Brexiteer former minister Crispin Blunt, warned many no longer regarded him as a neutral arbiter of Commons proceedings and urged him to “reflect” on his position.
“For many of us we will now have an unshakeable conviction that the referee of our affairs … is no longer neutral,” he said.
“I just invite you to reflect on the conclusion that many of us will have inevitably have come to.”
The Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said there were “some concerns” about his decision and asked him to confirm it was taken with “full advice” from the Commons clerk Sir David Natzler.
Mr Bercow said he had consulted privately with the clerk and other officials, but did not confirm his decision was taken with agreement from Sir David.
Earlier, in Prime Minister’s Questions, Jeremy Corbyn urged Mrs May to accept the will of the House as expressed in Tuesday’s vote and rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Mrs May retorted: “The only way to avoid no-deal is to vote for the deal.”