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Speaker John Bercow House of Commons/PA Wire
Third Time Lucky

The third vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal is confirmed for tomorrow

The British Prime Minister has offered to resign if MPs back the twice-defeated Withdrawal Agreement.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Mar 2019

THE HOUSE OF Commons will debate and vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal tomorrow at 2.30pm, it has been confirmed.

But there was confusion in the parliament after Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said that House Speaker John Bercow’s call for substantial changes would mean that this wouldn’t be a ‘Meaningful Vote’.

It had been unsure whether Bercow would allow a third vote on May’s deal, after stating before that it would have to be substantially different.

But a workaround has been found as the two previous votes were on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship; tomorrow’s vote will only be on the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The motion is new, substantially different,” Bercow has told parliament, adding that he would accept amendments to the Brexit deal.

But MPs were confused as to whether it was legally acceptable to split the two documents; Bercow said that it wasn’t a matter for him to decide whether it was legal, only whether it was orderly.

One MP pointed out that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration were “two horns on a goat’s head” and cannot be separated. Bercow replied that it was a political issue, but not an issue for him as chair.

The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said that the motion was “perfectly reasonable and perfectly lawful”, adding that “we could not let the time to expire tomorrow” without giving a chance for MPs to vote whether to allow May’s deal and avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The vote will take place on the original date that the UK was due to leave the EU, at 11pm on 29 March. This has been pushed back to 12 April if the deal is rejected, and 22 May if May’s deal is passed tomorrow.

Negotiations are ongoing behind the scenes in a bid to get May’s deal over the line – the third attempt at doing so. May is making last-ditch attempts to get MPs to back her Brexit deal, having offered her resignation in return for support.

Leadsom said earlier today that the government was trying to secure permission for a third vote from Bercow.

“We recognise that any motion brought forward tomorrow will need to be compliant with the speaker’s ruling and that discussion is ongoing,” Leadsom told the chamber.

Bercow yesterday cast fresh doubt over the holding of a third vote.

“There should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the government to meet the test of change.

“They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a notwithstanding or a paving motion, the tabling office has been instructed no such motion would be accepted,” he said. 

Indicative votes 

Last night, MPs rejected eight Brexit options put to them in a series of indicative votes.

The votes were, as the name suggests, indicative, but not legally binding.

The proposals with the most support were a UK-wide customs union with the EU and a second referendum.

Brexit minister Steve Barclay said the inconclusive outcome “strengthens our view that the deal our government has negotiated is the best option”.

‘Prepared to leave’ 

May yesterday told the Conservative Party she would step down as leader if they backed her deal.

I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.

“I know some people are worried that if you vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have.

“I won’t – I hear what you are saying,” May told Tory backbenchers at a meeting of the 1922 Committee.

As a result, a number of Eurosceptic MPs performed a u-turn including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson — a likely contender to replace May — who told fellow MPs he would now support the deal.

However, May’s offer may not be enough to win round some hardliners, including a group of Conservatives reported to call themselves ‘The Spartans’ who are still holding out — as is the Democratic Unionist Party.

The DUP said the backstop plan in the deal to keep open the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic poses an “unacceptable threat” to the United Kingdom.

The opposition Labour and Scottish National parties are also against the deal.

No deal

Britain was due to officially leave the EU tomorrow. The European Council last week agreed to delay Brexit until 22 May if MPs back May’s deal this week.

If the UK parliament doesn’t vote in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement, the new deadline would be 12 April and Britain will be expected to indicate a way forward before that date.

The UK would then face the choice of participating in the European Parliament elections at the end of May or exiting the European Union without a deal.

The European Commission on Monday said it has completed preparations for a no-deal Brexit, noting “it is increasingly likely that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a deal on 12 April”.

- with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha and AFP 2019  

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