John Bercow: the Speaker going head-to-head with Boris Johnson on Brexit

Former Conservative MP elected to the role four times but has drawn criticism

Because of his active role in the Brexit process, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has become an increasingly controversial figure. AFP / PRU
Because of his active role in the Brexit process, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has become an increasingly controversial figure. AFP / PRU

Short of stature and quick of temper, John Bercow, the Speaker of the House Commons, has become more deeply immersed in the cut and thrust of proceedings than any occupant of the post since the 17th century.

His bellowing cries of “Order, Order” are recognised around the world from news coverage of the wrangles over the British drive to leave the EU.

Gatekeeper to efforts to frustrate prime minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans, Mr Bercow said on Monday that he would do his best ability to facilitate the House of Commons ‘do or die’.

"I have sought to exercise my judgement in discharging my responsibility to facilitate the House of Commons. To facilitate the legislature. I have done it, I am doing it and I will do it to the best of my ability without fear or favour. To coin a phrase ‘come what may, do or die’," he said.

Speakers are meant to remain strictly unpartisan and renounce all affiliation to political parties. However, Mr Bercow has recently attracted some criticism for not appearing partisan in relation to Brexit, acting as the thorn in the side of the Eurosceptics. He overruled officials earlier this year to allow a vote on a Brexit Plan B in the Commons, ripping up years of precedent.

It was widely reported in January that he could be blocked for obtaining his peerage (former Commons speakers are offered a seat in the House of Lords) when he retires due to his “bias” in relation to Brexit. Such a move would break a tradition dating back 230 years.

The Speaker’s role is to preside over and control debates and punish MPs that don’t follow the rules of the House. On Monday, the Mr Bercow told cabinet minister Michael Gove to “be a good boy” in an extraordinary reprimand comparing his behaviour in Commons to the MP’s behaviour standing at the school gates of the school both their children attend.

Although he has recently drawn criticism, Mr Bercow had previously been seen as a popular figure. He has been re-elected, unopposed, three times as Speaker, following general elections in 2010, 2015 and 2017.

Mr Bercow started his political career as a Conservative councillor for the London Borough of Lambeth before becoming an MP in 1996 for Buckingham, in the southeast of England.

At the time, he was on the right-wing of politics and was a member of the anti-immigration Monday Club of activists. He was also the last chairman of the disbanded Federation of Conservative Students, which was notoriously supportive of Apartheid South Africa.

In 2007, there were rumours that he may defect to the opposition Labour party but he didn’t go through with the rumoured march across the floor.

He assumed office as the Speaker in June 2009 under Gordon Brown’s government and has also served under David Cameron, Theresa May and now Boris Johnson.

In October 2018, British media reported that Mr Bercow had told friends that he intended to “stand down” as the Speaker this summer.

But the current Brexit impasse has allowed him to maintain his position, which comes with a home in the Houses of Parliament overlooking the River Thames.

When he’s not trying to discipline and listen to MPs, Mr Bercow attends football games with his son. He is a long-time fan of Arsenal and holds a season ticket to the north London football club. He also watches tennis, having published a book in 2014 on his favourite tennis players.

Updated: September 4, 2019 06:50 PM


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