LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quickly following in his predecessor’s footsteps in one key area: getting embarrassed in Parliament.
Johnson's latest embarrassment was provided by Parliament’s Speaker, who on Monday shot down the PM’s bid to put his proposed Brexit deal with the EU to a simple “yes-or-no” vote in Parliament, just 10 days before Britain is due to leave the bloc.
Johnson had planned to put the proposed Brexit deal struck with the European Union last week to a “meaningful vote” before the House of Commons Monday, to secure the parliamentary approval it needs to pass.
But that move was blocked by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who ruled that Parliament had already considered essentially the same motion during a debate on Saturday, and — according to a centuries-old convention — was unable to consider it again.
The ruling means that Johnson’s deal will instead face a more challenging passage through Parliament, with the full details of the agreement scrutinized by lawmakers who will have the opportunity to potentially water down or derail the proposed deal with their own amendments.
“It's clear that the motions are in substance the same,” Bercow told MPs in delivering his decision.
“My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today, as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so.”
During Saturday’s debate, instead of endorsing Johnson’s deal in a so-called meaningful vote, MPs voted for an amendment that said a vote approving the deal couldn't happen until detailed legislation on the Brexit agreement, called the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), was passed into law.
The amendment was intended to trigger a previously-passed law that compelled Johnson to write to the EU seeking a Brexit delay if his deal wasn’t approved by 11 p.m. Saturday.
A furious Johnson, having repeatedly insisted he would refuse to write to the EU for an extension under any circumstances, adopted a novel strategy to try to wriggle out of that obligation by sending multiple letters to Brussels: the legally-mandated letter requesting an extension — which he did not sign — accompanied by a second letter stating he thought a delay was a mistake — which he did.
“A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson wrote in the latter.
Despite Johnson’s unusual approach, the EU said it had accepted the request for an extension as genuine, and is currently considering it.
The government is expected to publish the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on Monday, giving MPs their first detailed look at the proposed Brexit deal, which has the status of an international treaty between Britain and the EU. MPs will vote on the second reading of the legislation on Tuesday, after which amendments can be proposed — a process that will potentially give opponents the opportunity to alter the deal.
Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said his party plans to push for changes to the deal including a contentious change to customs arrangements, and pushing for the deal to be put before the public in a second referendum.
About one million protesters swarmed central London Saturday calling for a second referendum on Brexit. Organizers said the turnout was comparable to a People’s Vote rally held six months earlier.
Bercow’s decision sparked anger among government MPs, who accused him of pro-Remainer bias.
“The Speaker has yet again denied us a chance to deliver on the will of the British people,” said Johnson through a spokesman.
Conservative MP David Davies was also critical of Bercow. “The only consistency one can find in your rulings is that they always seem to favor one side of the argument and never the government,” he said.
But Bercow dismissed the criticism, saying government ministers were only “grumbling” because his ruling had gone against them.
“The consistent thread is I try to do what I think is right by the House of Commons,” he said.
Cover: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, to go to the Houses of Parliament in London, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)