Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit deal appears to be dead after the Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons blocked a third vote on the Prime Minister plan.
In a surprise statement to MPs on Tuesday (Australian time), John Bercow said the government cannot hold another vote on “substantially” the same deal which had already been defeated twice before, in January and last week.
“The Speaker did not warn us of the contents of the statement or indeed the fact that he was making one,” a spokesman for Ms May said.
Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the Prime Minister will write to European council president Donald Tusk with a request to negotiate an article 50 extension.
If agreed upon, the change known as a statutory instrument will be laid out next week when it will have to be passed by MPs.
Mr Bercow said a change would have to be “not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance”.
The EU must also change what it has agreed with the UK for a further vote to be allowed.
“This is my conclusion: if the government wishes to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same, nor substantially the same as that disposed of by the house on the 12th of March, this would be entirely in order,” Mr Bercow said.
“What the government cannot legitimately do is to resubmit to the House (of Commons) the same proposition or substantially the same proposition as that of last week which was rejected by 149 votes.”
According to precedents stretching back to 1604, parliamentary rules say that substantially similar proposals cannot be presented for a vote more than once during the same session of parliament.
Earlier, Ms May appeared she was winning some support for her Brexit deal, but Bercow’s ruling will leave the prime minister scrambling for options.
As it stands, Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29. But parliament has voted for a delay and May is expected to seek an extension to that deadline when she meets EU leaders at a summit on Thursday.
To add to her problems, Ms May appeared unlikely to reach agreement this week on her Brexit plans with the Democratic Unionists, the small Northern Irish party whose support is vital if she is to get her EU departure deal through parliament.
Ms May had earlier warned MPs that unless they approve her Brexit divorce pact, Britain’s exit from the EU could face a long delay which many Brexiteers fear would mean Britain may never leave.
After two-and-a-half years of negotiations with the EU, the final outcome remains uncertain – with options including a long delay, exiting with Ms May’s deal, a disorderly exit without a deal or even another EU membership referendum.
Ms May’s blueprint, an attempt to retain close trading and security ties with the EU while leaving the bloc’s formal political structures, was defeated by 230 votes in parliament on January 15, and by 149 votes on March 12.