This article is an extract from our video ‘Will There Be A Third Meaningful Vote’, which is linked above
Last week the government proposed that they will bring May’s Brexit deal back to the house again. If she does this, MPs will have voted on her deal on three separate occasions. This has lead some to ask if May is even allowed to do this and how many times she could bring it back?
It seems only logical that the Prime Minister shouldn’t be allowed to keep bringing back the same thing to the house of commons. If they were they could swamp the commons with votes for their proposals in the hope that eventually they cave and accept the PMs proposal. Like a war of attrition but over policy in a big palace with green seats.
This kind of thing is governed by Erskine May, a kind of bible for parliamentary rules. In fact it’s full title is ‘Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice’ and before that it was called ‘A Treatise upon the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament’. As the name suggests it lays out some of the core rules and principles for the UK’s parliament, including a rule on this very topic.
In Book two: Practice and Proceedings in Parliament, chapter 10 you will find the principle that the same Question or Bill may not be twice offered in a Session. In the chapter it goes on to say that “A motion or an amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during a session may not be brought forward again during that same session.”
The problem with enforcing this is that Erskine May is more akin to a set guidelines than hard rules. As such it’s hard to define exactly when the line has been crossed and when parliamentary practice hasn’t been adhered to. How do you actually define a change for example? When May brought back her deal for a second time it also included three new documents from the EU, which for many people, is enough to constitute a change. However, if May does bring back the deal for a third time this week, it likely won’t be any different, no changes have been made so far and there isn’t much time to change it again by Thursday.
Because of these principles, MPs voted on a motion to try and block May from bringing her deal back to the house for a third time. On Thursday’s MP’s brought forward an amendment which could have prevented another meaningful vote, citing Erskine May as the reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to make Parliament vote again.
However, the motion was never formerly tabled and as such MPs didn’t actually vote on it. This means that although it might not be popular, May is allowed to bring the deal back again (and maybe again).