John Bercow called the suspension of Parliament a ‘constitutional outrage’ and an ‘offence against the democratic process’. But pro-Brexit MPs accused him of hypocrisy this evening as he has openly admitted breaking convention by aiding the Remain side in the Commons.
Rather than being an impartial figure, as tradition dictates, Bercow has sided with the Government’s opponents.
He helped facilitate the defeat of Theresa May‘s Withdrawal Agreement and he prevented MPs from voting on an amendment to rule out a second referendum.
Interrupting his holiday yesterday, Bercow issued a statement saying: ‘However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.
Rather than being an impartial figure, as tradition dictates, Bercow has sided with the Government’s opponents
John Bercow called the suspension of Parliament a ‘constitutional outrage’ and an ‘offence against the democratic process’. But pro-Brexit MPs accused him of hypocrisy this evening as he has openly admitted breaking convention by aiding the Remain side in the Commons
‘At this time, one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, it is vital that our elected Parliament has its say. After all, we live in a parliamentary democracy.
‘The Prime Minister should be seeking to establish rather than undermine his democratic credentials and indeed his commitment to parliamentary democracy.’
According to Parliament’s website: ‘The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons and must remain politically impartial at all times.’
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘He’s a Speaker who has ripped every page about impartiality out of the Speaker’s rule book.
‘It is hypocritical. He’s showing what an arch-Remainer he is. No doubt his impotence to stop prorogation will undoubtedly be making him go apoplectic.’
Bercow’s critics say he’s on a one-man mission to destroy Brexit – he was spotted driving a car with a sticker saying ‘Bollocks to Brexit’. (Bercow told MPs the car belonged to his wife.) He used constitutional theorist Erskine May (who died in 1886) to bolster his opportunistic case to sabotage the EU referendum result.
As a proud expert on parliamentary history, surely Bercow knows that proroguing Parliament is a normal part of the process of government. It happens almost every year as one parliamentary term ends and another begins.
The difference this time is that the prorogation will last longer than normal and will happen at a tortuous time politically.
Bercow’s ‘outrage’ might have been more convincing were it not for his long record of interpreting parliamentary rules and conventions in ways that favour the Remain side. In January, he defied convention and overruled his officials by allowing a vote on an amendment which forced Prime Minister Theresa May to present an EU Withdrawal Bill ‘Plan B’ to MPs after they rejected her deal.
Bercow admitted he had flouted precedent, adding: ‘If we were guided only by precedent, manifestly nothing in our procedures would ever change… I have made an honest judgment.’
He later prevented MPs from voting on a Brexiteer amendment which specifically ruled out a second referendum – even though it had been signed by 127 MPs.
In March, when Mrs May was desperately trying to get her Bill through the Commons at the third attempt, Bercow, seeking to block the vote, was a stickler for precedent. He ruled that MPs could not vote because the motion was substantially unchanged.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen (pictured) said: ‘He’s a Speaker who has ripped every page about impartiality out of the Speaker’s rule book. ‘It is hypocritical. He’s showing what an arch-Remainer he is. No doubt his impotence to stop prorogation will undoubtedly be making him go apoplectic’
His justification was a convention dating to 1604, which, he said, had been used a dozen times – though not since 1920. Clearly, Bercow’s contradictory view of historical precedence is based on what he feels can be employed most handily to thwart Brexit. His bias has shown up several times, too, in the Speaker’s choice of amendments to select for debate.
In March he chose two motions that, if passed, would have allowed MPs to seize control of the business of the Commons (in the event, both were rejected). He blocked another motion that would have allowed MPs to rule out a second referendum on Brexit.
The fact is that a debate with a partisan moderator is not a true debate. As for his claim about prorogation being an outrage, Tory MP Philip Hollobone pointed out that as PM, Tony Blair regularly prorogued Parliament for 12 weeks. His former colleague Stewart Jackson observed with irony that it seemed fine for ‘Remain backbenchers with no mandate take control of legislation to work with Bercow to block voters’ decision’ on Brexit but that it was an ‘outrage’ to follow precedent and rules to prorogue Parliament ahead of a new government’s legislative programme. ‘Hypocrites!’ he added.
Sir Christopher Meyer, our former ambassador to the US, tartly commented that it was ‘time for Bercow to keep quiet and keep out.’
Surely the correct place for such a remark, if at all, would have been the Speaker’s chair. It should not have been delivered to an ardently Remain-leaning audience at an arts festival in a country where the majority voted Remain in 2016
The Speaker says he has always sought to ‘champion the rights of members wishing to put their particulBercow – once a Right-wing Conservative but now a liberal – has repeatedly shown no qualms in advertising his Remainer views, reportedly telling students at Reading in 2017: ‘I voted to Remain.’ This summer, he travelled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to tell an audience that he would ‘fight with every breath in my body’ to stop the Prime Minister proroguing Parliament.
Surely the correct place for such a remark, if at all, would have been the Speaker’s chair. It should not have been delivered to an ardently Remain-leaning audience at an arts festival in a country where the majority voted Remain in 2016.
At the same event, Bercow was asked if MPs would be able to stop a No Deal Brexit. Rather than properly declining to answer, he replied with an enthusiastic: ‘Yes!’
Already, MPs have condemned the Speaker for staying in his job more than a year beyond his self-declared retirement date. So is it any surprise when he so brazenly makes clear his views on the issue in Britain’s recent political history?
Tory MP Peter Bone said on Wednesday: ‘Bercow no longer sounds like a referee – he sounds like he is playing for one of the teams.’
The truth is that John Bercow’s behaviour shows that he is not an independent defender of the British constitution. He is a partisan figure who has exploited his office to arrogantly wield the political power that eluded him during the years he spent as a backbencher.