Speaker John Bercow addressing MPs in the House of Commons, London where he has ruled out another vote on Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement if the motion is substantially the same as last time.
House of Commons—PA Images via Getty Images
By David Meyer
March 19, 2019

Good morning. David Meyer here, filling in for Alan from Berlin.

Theresa May has been counting on her ability to steamroll her Brexit deal through the British Parliament, but that option has most likely been taken away from her.

It now seems the British prime minister will not be able to bring back her twice-rejected deal for a third vote. This is thanks to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who has invoked a four-century-old parliamentary rule, not used since 1920, that stops the government from repeatedly presenting the same motion to lawmakers.

The second vote on the deal was acceptable, Bercow said, because the EU was providing the U.K. with fresh assurances (a debatable point) about the implications of the deal. But to go for a third vote, May would have to present something fundamentally different than before—and it’s up to her to figure out how to do that. That’s a tricky task, given that the deal negotiations have been over for some time. However, the prime minister is reportedly going to try ramming her deal through anyway. She has never shown much flexibility in her leadership, so why start now?

This presents the other 27 EU countries with a dilemma. The British government has said it would ask for a short Brexit extension if the deal gets approved, and a long one if it does not. A long extension would be the sensible option at this point, but it would be politically toxic for May as it would mean the U.K. suddenly having to field candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections. May is meeting with her EU counterparts on Thursday, so what will she ask for, and how flexible are the other European leaders prepared to be? It’s not just May’s leadership legacy that’s on the line here.

The suspense is painful and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Reminder: a no-deal Brexit will by default hammer businesses and the markets at the end of next week, unless everyone urgently figures out a way through this mess.

On a much-needed lighter note, France’s Europe minister has named her cat Brexit. “He wakes me up meowing like mad because he wants to be let out,” Nathalie Loiseau reportedly wrote on her Facebook page. “As soon as I open the door he stays put, undecided. When I put him out, he gives me an evil look.”

More news below, and do check out Tiernan Ray’s fascinating piece for Fortune about how A.I. is helping drug companies repurpose old products for new treatments.

David Meyer


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