Brexit Bulletin: Wrecking Ball

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit: A more than 400-year-old parliamentary rule has dealt a major blow to Theresa May’s strategy.

Today could have been the day Theresa May brought her Brexit deal back to Parliament for a third time. Instead, the beleaguered prime minister is preparing to seek a lengthy delay after her plan was judged to run foul of the institution’s ancient rulebook.

It was House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, a man never far from the headlines throughout the Brexit process, who dealt the telling blow. In his statement yesterday, Bercow invoked a rule – dating back to 1604 – that the same motion cannot be put to a vote repeatedly.

With the U.K. still due to leave the European Union on March 29, the surprise move makes it more likely that the nation will have to seek an extension to its membership, potentially giving May’s opponents time to force a rethink of the divorce. May had been working to put her deal back to Parliament for approval by March 20, with a vote penciled in for Tuesday. A U.K. official said yesterday that another meaningful vote was now unlikely this week. 

There was a strong element of anger in the government’s reaction, with a different official saying the Speaker was trying to force a softer Brexit and give Parliament control of the process. Meanwhile, the solicitor general, Robert Buckland, said the decision had led to a “major constitutional crisis.” 

Bercow has set a high bar for the prime minister to meet if she wants to ask Parliament to vote again on the agreement she spent two years negotiating with the EU. The deal must be “fundamentally different,” he said, and “in all likelihood” that means something new must be agreed with the bloc. That suggests that even a new legal opinion from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox wouldn’t be enough to allow another vote if the deal is unchanged.

The problem for May is that negotiations have finished and time has almost run out. Now, the chastised PM must head to Brussels for a summit on Thursday, where it seems likely she’ll ask for an extension. The Sun reports today that May is drafting a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council, formally requesting a delay of nine to 12 months.

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Today’s Must-Reads

Brexit in Brief

DUP Deniers | The Democratic Unionist Party may not strike an agreement with the U.K. government to support the current withdrawal deal ahead of the meeting with EU leaders, the Guardian reports. 

Bridge to Norway | Norway and the U.K. reached a temporary deal to protect trade should Britain tumble out of the EU next week. It secures prolonging zero tariffs on industrial goods and established quotas on seafood and agricultural products, according to a statement from Norway’s Foreign Ministry. Iceland is also party to the accord.

Early Warnings | The Office for National Statistics will start publishing new monthly figures for the U.K. economy starting in April, potentially helping provide early warning signs of trouble as Britain adjusts to life outside the EU. The data will include indexes tracking activity at ports and on roads.

Corbyn Key | Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is the key person in the next steps for Brexit, Adam Posen, president at Peterson Institute, told Bloomberg TV on Monday.

On the Markets | The pound had a rocky day on Monday after May’s Brexit plan took the hit. The currency fell as much as 0.8 percent, before ending the day 0.3 percent lower.

Labor Market Brightness | Amid the latest chaos, the U.K. is due to report jobs figures today. Economists expect that the labor market, which has remained buoyant since the referendum, probably maintained that trend at the start of the year, even as the economy suffers from Brexit uncertainty.

Pet Peeve | France’s minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, told Le Journal du Dimanche that she now calls her cat Brexit – because it meows loudly to be let out each morning but then refuses to go outside when she opens the door.

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