May avoids confrontation with MPs over Brexit vote delay despite Speaker anger

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Ministers will seek to defer the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal without seeking approval of MPs, despite a warning from the Speaker that this would be “deeply discourteous”.

After Theresa May announced she was delaying the meaningful vote, John Bercow hit out at the late stage of abandonment, with 164 having already taken part in three days of debate.

Under Parliamentary rules Theresa May can postpone putting her Withdrawal Agreement before MPs without their approval but he urged her to “give the House the opportunity to express its opinion in a vote whether or not it wishes the debate to be brought to a premature and inconclusive end”.

He added: “The other option is for the Government to unilaterally to decline to move today’s business, which means that the House is not only deprived of its opportunity to vote on the substance of the debate tomorrow, but also that it is given no chance to express its view today on whether the debate should or should not be allowed to continue.

“I politely suggest that in any courteous, respectful and mature environment, allowing the House to have its say on this matter would be the right, and dare I say it obvious course to take.”

However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman later told reporters that when the Commons clerk reads out the orders of the day on Monday evening, the Government whip will call out “tomorrow”.

This puts off the two remaining days of debate and any votes until a date yet to be fixed, with no requirement for vote on this procedure, he added.

Earlier on Monday questions had been raised over whether she had the power to unilaterally stop the meaningful vote under Commons procedures.

There was some suggestion that MPs might need to vote separately on whether to allow her meaningful vote to be postponed – raising fresh questions over whether she could win over enough MPs to support it.

In a Twitter question and answer session, Commons officials said: “The vote could be delayed in 1 of 3 ways.

“1) A Minister could defer the motion when it is called at the start of business today or tomorrow.

“2) The Govt could move a motion during the debate ‘That the debate be now adjourned’: this could be debated & voted on.

“3) If these two options are unavailable, technically a Minister could ‘talk out’ the debate at 7pm on Tuesday. (2/2)

Of the three, options one and three seem the most plausible, with division now so rife in the Tory party that Mrs May is unlikely to risk any vote she could lose.

Southend MP and former whip James Duddridge had underlined the depth of the problem the PM faced if she called a vote on delaying the meaningful vote.

Tweeting before the House of Commons outlined the Prime Minister’s options, he wrote: “The PM does not get to pull a vote. The House will have to vote to pull a vote.

“I will oppose. We need to see this deal off once and for all.”

The length of the delay in returning for a vote on the deal, or anything else, will be of importance with the UK due to leave the EU on March 29.

On this the House of Commons officials helpfully noted: “In practice the latest date would be 28 March as matters stand.”

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