Analysis & Comment

Laura Larkin: 'With the clock ticking louder, the UK faces yet another hurdle'

Another day, another Brexit plot twist – and this one looks set to make the uphill climb towards a deal even more perilous.

Embattled Tory leader Theresa May is all but clinging on to her premiership, and has now had her apparent strategy of running down the clock dealt a potentially fatal blow by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

Her third-time-lucky vote has turned out to be rather unlucky – and that’s without looking at the parliamentary arithmetic, which still looks breathtakingly tight, even if she does manage to win over her key targets.

The announcement by Mr Bercow – a man who could have been plucked from central casting for the role in the House of Commons – was met with frantic reaction across the spectrum in the UK.

It was welcomed by hard-line Brexiteers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said: “May I say how delighted I am that you have decided to follow precedent, which is something I am greatly in favour of.”

But in Whitehall, there was an unsurprisingly icy reception, with the prime minister’s spokesman confirming the speaker “did not forewarn us of the content of his statement, or indeed the fact that he was making one”.

The solicitor general in the UK described the chaos as a “constitutional crisis”.

The words of Winston Churchill describing a “riddle wrapped in an enigma” have been invoked often along the Brexit way. But it seems Mr Bercow has added another layer of complexity, adding a lock to which only he holds the key. He will be the one to determine if the UK government has met the bar he has set out, based on hundreds of years of parliamentary precedent.

The Brexit battle facing Mrs May, with just 10 days to go until the UK is scheduled to leave, has split on two fronts.

On one hand, she must continue trying to sway the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) behind her deal in order to convince enough rebel Tory and Labour MPs to vote for it.

On the other hand, she will have to find a way to actually ensure there is a vote for them to get behind.

Mr Bercow has suggested it would take a change from Europe to ensure the deal was substantially different if it returned for a third vote.

But there wasn’t immediate clarity on whether changes to domestic legislation alongside the deal would be enough to meet his litmus test. Changes to the UK’s Brexit legislation had been mooted as a potential way to reassure the DUP.

Within minutes of his proclamation, speculation had turned to the idea Queen Elizabeth could end the parliamentary session early and convene a new one to allow the deal to be brought back for a vote.

There are, it appears, avenues out of the current crisis, but the intervention by Mr Bercow has left the UK scrambling to find it – and all the while, the ticking of the clock is only getting louder.

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