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Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow dealt a potentially fatal blow to Prime Minister Theresa May's ailing Brexit deal on Monday, March 18, 2019, saying the government couldn't keep asking lawmakers to vote on the same Brexit deal that lawmakers have already rejected twice.The Associated Press

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of getting her Brexit deal approved by parliamentarians have been dealt a serious blow from an unlikely source: the Speaker of the House of Commons.

In an unexpected announcement on Monday, Speaker John Bercow said Ms. May could not reintroduce her Brexit deal to Members of Parliament for the third time unless it has been substantially changed. The decision is a blow to Ms. May, who had been planning to submit the agreement to Parliament this week. It also throws more confusion into the Brexit process with less than two weeks before Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29. Ms. May has indicated that she will seek an extension to that deadline when EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. It’s unclear if EU leaders will agree to a delay but signals out of Brussels indicate that an extension of several months or even years is likely.

The Speaker’s ruling caught Ms. May off guard. Solicitor-General Robert Buckland said the government may have to end the parliamentary session, known as prorogation, in order to reintroduce the deal. “Frankly, we could have done without this,” he told reporters, referring to Mr. Bercow’s decision.

Ms. May had been hoping that her Brexit deal would finally make it through Parliament after two failed attempts. The agreement was rejected by MPs in January by a 230-vote margin and a revised version was turned down by 149 votes last Tuesday. However, after that vote, Ms. May vowed to try again and she told MPs that if her deal was approved, she would seek a short extension to the March 29 deadline. But she warned the House that if the agreement was rejected again, the EU could seek a delay of up to two years, putting Brexit in doubt. That was seen as a way of applying pressure on a group of fellow Conservative MPs who have been the most critical of the deal. Over the weekend, many of the Tory rebels said they would now back the agreement out of fears Brexit might not ever happen. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs prop up Ms. May’s minority government, had also been rethinking their opposition to the agreement.

But all of that has now been put into question by Mr. Bercow. Citing precedents dating back to 1604, Mr. Bercow said the government could not submit the same motion to Parliament. “If the government wishes to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same nor substantially the same as that disposed of by the House on March 12, this would be entirely in order,” he said.”What the government cannot legitimately do is resubmit to the House the same proposition – or substantially the same proposition – as that of last week, which was rejected by 149 votes.”

During a lengthy debate on his statement, Mr. Bercow indicated that he would wait to see what Ms. May presented. But he made it clear the agreement would have to be altered, similar to what happened after the first vote in January. Ms. May returned to Brussels after that vote, negotiated some changes and submitted the revised deal to Parliament. But since the deal’s defeat last week, Ms. May has not had any negotiations with EU officials. Mr. Bercow said the deal would have to be “not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance” before MPs could vote on it again.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Bercow, 56, has caused headaches for Ms. May and her government. Several Brexit-backing Tory MPs have long accused him of being anti-Brexit and many MPs have chafed under his colourful rebukes and withering shouts of “order” and “calm yourself.” It hasn’t helped that his wife’s car is emblazoned with an anti-Brexit sticker or that he has ruled against the government several times on Brexit matters. Last week, he came under fire for rejecting an amendment that would have ruled out a second referendum on Brexit, and in January, he infuriated Tory Brexiters by allowing MPs to vote on a motion that altered the timetable for Ms. May to return to Parliament after the deal was first voted down. Tory MPs have accused him of flouting parliamentary rules and backing those who want to keep closer ties to the EU. A headline in the Sun newspaper labelled him “Speaker of the Devil,” while the Daily Mail called him an “egotistical preening popinjay [who] has shamelessly put his anti-Brexit bias before the national interest – and is a disgrace to his office.”

Mr. Bercow has also faced allegations of bullying staff, which he vehemently denies, and he’s had a running battle with Andrea Leadsom, a cabinet minister he allegedly called “a stupid woman” during an intense exchange. (Mr. Bercow admitted using the word stupid but added it “simply summed up how I felt.”) The Speaker has been unrepentant about his conduct, although there has been a push for him to resign this summer. "I have never been pushed around, and I’m not going to start now,” he thundered on Monday.

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