Westminster is often described as the “mother of all parliaments” and this week proved to be the mother of all messes.
MPs had a spring in their step on Monday after an unprecedented vote – in modern times – to take control of the parliamentary timetable in order to put forward alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Eight options were put to a vote on Wednesday and all eight were defeated. Brexit limbo continued.
Yesterday afternoon further confusion reigned when Commons leader Andrea Leadsom announced that a vote on a “motion relating to the UK’s exit from the EU” would take place today. Pressed on whether that motion amounted to a third “meaningful vote” on Mrs May’s deal, Ms Leadsom refused again and again to answer.
A whole afternoon of rumour and speculation followed and the government eventually revealed the vote would not be “meaningful” and binding in the same way as the previous two votes were, but would still give MPs a chance to express their view.
The government has essentially been forced into this position because Speaker John Bercow ruled that it would not be in line with parliamentary procedure for the government to ask MPs to vote on Mrs May’s deal, unchanged, again.
Essentially the move today, described as “parliamentary trickery of the highest order” by one MP, gives the government a final chance to show the EU that their deal can carry support.
If this “last throw of the dice” fails, the government have said they will be forced to seek a long extension to Article 50 and take part in European Union elections. Legally of course the default position, as revised in Brussels last Friday, remains that the UK will leave on April 12 come what may.
SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart captured the mood in the Commons when yesterday when he said: “They just haven’t got a clue what’s going on anymore, they’re totally at the mercy of events, of parliamentary arithmetic and all sorts of party shenanigans.”