Bercow backs proxy vote on Brexit for pregnant Labour MP

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Powered by article titled “Bercow backs proxy vote on Brexit for pregnant Labour MP” was written by Dan Sabbagh, for The Guardian on Monday 14th January 2019 21.49 UTC

John Bercow has told parliament the Labour MP Tulip Siddiq should be allowed to have a proxy for the Brexit vote on Tuesday so she does not have to delay having a baby by caesarean section in order to get to Westminster.

The Speaker of the House of Commons said it was time “reactionary forces” were overcome and demanded Conservative and Labour whips introduce the proxy system immediately so Siddiq does not have to go through the division lobby in a wheelchair.

It is understood Siddiq, who is heavily pregnant, will travel to Westminster to vote in the Brexit debate after delaying a planned caesarean by two days.

Responding to a point of order raised by Harriet Harman, Bercow called on Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, and the whips in both main parties to act immediately to agree a proxy vote for Siddiq.

The border

Perhaps the most contentious issue. In order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, a backstop arrangement that keeps the UK in the customs union and requires Northern Ireland to follow single market rules would prevail until a free-trade agreement is reached that avoids such a frontier.

The financial settlement

The UK and EU negotiators have agreed the former should honour those commitments it made while a member of the bloc – finally settling on a figure of £39bn.

Transition period

The deal would secure a status quo transition period to negotiate the nature of the future relationship, and during which the UK could begin to make trade deals with third countries.

Citizens’ rights

A fraught issue at the outset, an agreement was reached relatively quickly that would see the UK respect the rights of EU citizens who arrive before the end of the transition period, which could be in 2022, and vice versa.

The future

The document is accompanied by a political declaration that sketches out the future relationship between the two parties – focusing primarily on trade and security.

The Speaker said “the notion that an MP would have to be pushed through the division lobby in a wheelchair is completely uncivilised” and repeatedly described the situation as “lamentable”.

Harman said Siddiq should not have “to choose between going through the division lobby in a wheelchair nine months pregnant having postponed her caesarean or losing her right to vote”.

Conservative sources said that Labour whips had not asked to pair Siddiq, or arrange for her to be nodded through. They added if she wanted a proxy to vote for her it would be organised as soon as possible.

Earlier, Siddiq told the Evening Standard she intended to vote in person: “If my son enters the world even one day later than the doctors advised, but it’s a world with a better chance of a strong relationship between Britain and Europe, then that’s worth fighting for.”

It would be the first time an MP has been allowed to have another person vote on their behalf so they do not have to travel to Westminster in order to be counted, and make good on a promise agreed in a Commons debate in February last year.

Those unable to make it through the division lobbies have traditionally had to get on to the parliamentary estate – in an ambulance if necessary – in order to be “nodded through”, although that only applies if whips from both sides agree.

Otherwise, MPs have to make their way through the division lobbies in person. On Monday night, aides said Siddiq had asked to ensure she can be driven to Westminster and a wheelchair will be made available so she can vote.

11.30am The Commons begins sitting. The first item is questions to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, and his ministerial team. These are meant to last 30 minutes but can run slightly over. Then the Labour MP Debbie Abrahams briefly introduces a private member’s bill on public sector supply chains under a 10-minute rule motion.

After midday If there are no urgent questions or ministerial statements to delay proceedings, the final day of debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal – officially known as section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 – begins. It will be opened for the government by the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.

Before 7pm May will make a final closing speech for the government, appealing for support for her deal.

From 7pm Voting begins. However, before the crucial vote, MPs must vote on some of the dozen or so amendments tabled by Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP as well as backbenchers including Labour’s Hilary Benn and the Tory MP Andrew Murrison. It remains unclear how many of these will be put to a division. One amendment, tabled by the Tory Hugo Swire, has been accepted by the government.

At some point between around 7.30pm to 9.30pm MPs finally vote on the deal, as amended.

Relations between Conservative and Labour whips have deteriorated in the past year, with claims the government resorted to dirty tricks and playing hardball in order to win key votes.

The Labour backbencher Naz Shah was pushed through the division lobby in a wheelchair while wearing pyjamas last June, at a time when she was recovering from a serious illness, because the Conservatives refused to allow her to be nodded through.

Brandon Lewis, the Conservative chairman, controversially voted in two knife-edge Brexit votes last July when he was supposed to abstain to honour an agreed pairing with the Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who was on maternity leave at the time.

Siddiq told the Standard: “If the pairing system is not honoured, there’s nothing I can do, and it’s going to be a very close vote. I’ve had no pressure at all from the whips to come and vote, but this is the biggest vote of my lifetime.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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