The lesson of this pantomime is that literally nobody knows what is happening or what they are doingby Jonathan Lis / March 19, 2019 / Leave a comment
Britain has sunk so low that even our disasters have become hilarious. This week, the world looked on in baffled mirth as the Speaker John Bercow suddenly announced in the Commons that he would block a third meaningful vote on any Brexit motion that remained unchanged from the last one. He justified it using a convention from 1604 cited in Erskine May, the parliamentary rulebook.
The rule, which on its own is perfectly sensible, seeks to prevent bullying by the Executive—specifically, via a government’s attempts to force its will on Parliament by proposing the same legislation over and again.
The government, for its part, had no idea that it might not be able to do exactly as it pleased, and was consequently apoplectic. Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom rounded off proceedings by engaging in a slanging match with Bercow on the importance of courtesy.
Let’s face it. Brexit has turned a self-inflicted national tragedy into a box-office global farce.
On the surface, Bercow’s ruling shatters May’s strategy with one clean blow. The prime minister has only ever intended to leave with her deal, and if that wasn’t good enough for MPs, she would propose it again and again until it was. The ruling also devastated the strategy of many of the Brexiters, which was to tease both the prime minister and their consciences by gingerly easing themselves into May’s deal while repeatedly voting against it.
Different MPs attempted to score points off Bercow’s announcement. The no-dealers congratulated him, hoping it boosted their cause. The Remainers congratulated him, hoping it boosted theirs. And the anti-referendumers attempted to outwit him by asking whether a motion for a new public vote, which had been defeated on Thursday, would now be deemed to be out of order if proposed again. The Speaker, with his customary flourish, affirmed that he had said no such thing. Everyone was playing games and everyone wanted to brandish a win.
May, of course, should have seen this coming. Her government has had numerous run-ins with the Speaker, who is now seen as more political than any predecessor in living memory. He protests that he is merely speaking up for MPs and has no duty whatsoever to let the government railroad them.