Hold on to your hats - Bercow warns ministers ahead of Commons showdown
PUBLISHED: 18:37 11 March 2019 | UPDATED: 18:41 11 March 2019
John Bercow has insisted the Commons will “not be messed around” by ministers over a crucial Brexit vote as MPs prepare for the showdown.
The speaker sounded his warning after several MPs condemned the lack of time available for them to consider any changes to the Brexit deal and to table amendments.
Brexit minister Robin Walker confirmed a second meaningful vote on Theresa May’s deal will take place on Tuesday, but he was unable to offer further details as to when the motion will be brought forward, noting that negotiations are ongoing.
Bercow hinted Tuesday’s debate on the Brexit deal could be delayed by extra business being added to the schedule, which would give MPs a chance to assess new information, while TIG MP and former minister Chris Leslie suggested a suspension of the sitting may be required.
The speaker also confirmed Brexit secretary Steve Barclay’s statement to the Commons on Monday was expected at either 10pm or it “might come a little earlier”.
He added it will take place when the government is “in a position to make, dare I say it, a meaningful statement” to MPs.
Addressing the Commons, Labour former minister Yvette Cooper raised a point of order to highlight there was more consultation over door closures on the Docklands Light Railway than the “entire future of our country” on Brexit.
She said: “The government is being utterly irresponsible and reckless. Is this incompetence or just contempt for parliament?”
Bercow said he did not want to get into the matter of contempt, but added: “I do think it is important that we treat this business in a responsible way, and part of treating it in a responsible way means ensuring that parliamentary colleagues and, very importantly, backbenchers have the opportunity to express their will both in written and spoken form - as well as by vote.”
He said he would keep an eye on matters throughout Monday, adding: “We must not be messed around - I’m sure that’s not the will of (Walker), who is a most courteous fellow, but we cannot allow that to happen.”
Leslie, a former Labour MP who left to form the Independent Group, earlier said: “This is completely crazy... we’re nearly three years on from that referendum and yet (Mr Walker) may give the House three minutes to consider a motion.
“He’s shaking his head - will it be half an hour, maybe an hour?”
Leslie suggested the Commons should be suspended to consider the Government’s Brexit motion and any advice from attorney general Geoffrey Cox, which would also enable MPs to table amendments.
Bercow, in response to a later point of order from Tory MP Peter Bone (Wellingborough), said urgent questions or ministerial statements could take place on Tuesday before adding: “It’s even conceivable, I don’t say for certain, but depending on what happens at this very important time, there could be request to secure the attention of the House on another matter for a significant period - before we even get to the debate.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose urgent question on Brexit brought Mr Walker to the Commons, earlier said: “This is a government in chaos with a country in chaos because of this mess.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said it was “crucial” the vote to delay the Article 50 deadline went ahead on Thursday, as “we have to take back control from this shambles of a Government”.
Labour MPs attempted to pin down the government on whether any changes secured by Mrs May to the Withdrawal Agreement would be legally-binding.
With the PM rumoured to be flying to Strasbourg tonight to get a revised proposal, Hilary Benn, chair of the Brexit Committee, asked: “Will that have the approval of the heads of government, and if not will it actually constitute a negotiated agreement under the terms of section 13.1b of the EU Withdrawal Act?”
Walker said he was unable to answer the questions, but suggested he put them to Mr Barclay on Tuesday when he is due to face Benn’s committee.