Key legislation to implement Brexit is “suffering the pains of those in purgatory”, Jacob Rees-Mogg said before acknowledging the October 31 deadline could be missed.
Speaker John Bercow said the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement Bill) is now “in limbo” after MPs rejected the Government’s bid to fast-track it through the Commons.
He told MPs: “Just in case there is any doubt, the technical term for the status of the Bill at present is that the Bill is in limbo”.
Quoting Erskine May, a guide to parliamentary practice, he said: “Any motion to enable the Bill to proceed to committee stage or beyond requires notice.”
But Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg added: “I think theologically speaking it was reported that Pope Benedict XVI (16th) abolished limbo, so I do wonder whether the Bill is not in the heaven that is having been passed, nor in the hell of having failed, but it is in purgatory where it is suffering the pains of those in purgatory.”
He added: “There is the deadline of October 31 and we on this side of the House are trying to meet that deadline by getting a deal through.
“The House has voted for that deal, but it seems to will the end, but not the means currently.”
Mr Rees-Mogg added it is “very hard to see how it is possible” for the Bill to pass through the Commons and the Lords before the October 31 deadline.
Conservative MP and ardent Brexiteer Peter Bone said: “Leader of the House, can we interpret from what you are saying that it is now impossible to get the deal through this House and the other House prior to October 31, and in that case it is effectively dead for approval before that date?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “Impossible is a very strong word, but it is very hard to see how it is possible.”
Labour MPs who voted for the Government’s Brexit deal at second reading later called for more time to discuss the Bill at committee stage.
Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) said: “The injury inflicted this evening was a mere flesh wound, and if the Leader of the House was willing to bring forward a motion tomorrow with a more considered timetable for committee stage, it would pass this House.”
He added: “Some of us voted for second reading precisely so we could get on to the next stage for more scrutiny, and didn’t support the programme motion because we did not believe there was sufficient time.”
Fellow Labour MP Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) added: “All we’re asking for is the opportunity to ensure that the deal which was only presented to us last night works for our constituents and my local economy – we need slightly more time.”
Mr Bercow also did not rule out MPs being able to take control of the order paper to enable them to organise committee stage for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
Mr Snell asked the Speaker if such a move would be possible.
Mr Bercow replied: “I think that is, at this point, hard to envisage.
“I won’t say that there is no means by which that can be done, we have seen in recent times how the House can take ownership of matters including of the paper, if I can put it that way, of the order paper and to schedule business.
“Including leading to legislation, so I don’t say that there is no way that anything could be done.”