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Wolves of Westminster

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Speaker refuses second WA vote, Government publishes WA Bill

3 min read
21 October 2019 | UK NEWS

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has refused a Government request to bring the Prime Minister’s new Withdrawal Agreement back before the House for a vote today, as had been anticipated. Addressing the issue, Mr Bercow told the House: “It’s clear that the motions are in substance the same.

However, this matter was decided fewer than 49 hours ago. After more than three hours of debate the House voted by 322 to 306 for Sir Oliver Letwin’s amendment, which stated that ‘this House has considered the matter but withholds approval unless and until implementing legislation is passed’.”

The Speaker added: “Today’s motion is in substance the same as Saturday’s motion, and the House has decided the matter. Today’s circumstances are in substance the same as Saturday’s circumstances. My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so.”

Mr Bercow was referring to the ‘same question convention’ in the Commons, which holds that Members cannot be asked to vote on the same issue twice within any given parliamentary session, which normally lasts for one year. Its intention is to ensure that matters can be considered settled and decisions respected, to avoid them being vexatiously re-advanced by an incumbent government.

Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin appeared to admonish the Speaker for this judgment, saying he had “denied the opportunity” for the House to express its view on the matter at hand, given that the Government’s motion itself was not ultimately voted upon as it was withdrawn as soon as it had been amended by Sir Oliver Letwin, such that it “ceased to exist”. Sir Bernard also questioned the impartiality of the Speaker in making this ruling, which prompted Mr Bercow to reply that Sir Bernard “wasn’t grumbling” when he had made decisions “in his favour”, and added that if Sir Bernard was not satisfied with his decision, “there’s not much I can do about that”.

However, the Speaker did permit the Government to introduce its Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which is the UK primary legislation that enacts the Prime Minister’s new Withdrawal Agreement and brings its effects into domestic law. The Government published the Bill around 8pm this evening, so it can now be properly scrutinised. This development is significant vis à vis Theresa May’s original deal, given that her government never reached the stage of publishing the Bill to enact it.

According to the parliamentary business agenda published this evening by the Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Bill is to be given a second reading tomorrow and subsequently debated in the Commons until Thursday, with the House sitting until midnight each day if necessary, after which it is scheduled to move on to the Lords stage. The Government has announced that it remains committed to putting the Bill into law by 31 October, in order to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly manner in line with the Prime Minister’s new deal.

However, MPs from across the House have objected, citing the Bill’s length of over 100 pages and questioning whether this timetable gives them sufficient opportunity to scrutinise the very important legislation in detail. In response, various pro-Brexit MPs have pointed to the extremely short passage of the Benn Act through both Houses, which occurred over a mere three-day period. It should also be noted, however, that that legislation was of course significantly shorter.

Accordingly, the passage of the Prime Minister’s new Withdrawal Agreement legislation, which is necessary in any event to give effect to it in UK law, will now pass through the House of Commons this week, assuming it is not subject to any significant delays owing to debates or amendments. We will bring you further coverage of its progress as events develop.

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