Politics

John Bercow: Five times former Commons Speaker disrupted Brexit

Kate Garraway quizzes John Bercow on Boris Johnson

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Mr Bercow, who turns 59 today, was well-known for his shouts of “order!” as he tried to control MPs during the often-passionate Brexit debates. The former Speaker, who enjoyed 10 years in the role, was replaced by his deputy Sir Lindsay Hoyle in 2019. Mr Bercow’s tenure has been largely defined by the authority he has wielded over the Government’s Brexit agenda.

However, while overseeing the Commons, the former Speaker was accused of trying to block the UK’s departure from the EU.

Mr Bercow, who voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum and switched allegiances from Conservative to Labour last year, has maintained he was impartial throughout.

Upon announcing his resignation, he said: “Throughout my time as Speaker, I have sought to increase the relative authority of this legislature for which I will make absolutely no apology to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Yet, on at least five separate occasions, the Speaker appeared to seek to hinder or delay the Brexit process.

On December 10, 2018, he called on the Government to give MPs a choice on whether a key Brexit vote should have been scrapped.

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Then-Prime Minister Theresa May had “deferred” a Commons vote on her Brexit deal to allow herself more time to negotiate with EU leaders.

Mr Bercow had demanded the Government give MPs a vote to decide if the vote went ahead or not.

However, his request was rejected by Downing Street and he labelled the situation “regrettable”.

Less than a month later, on January 15, 2019, Mr Bercow again locked horns with Mrs May’s administration when he failed to allow a vote on an amendment to her Brexit deal.

At the time, the Prime Minister was struggling to break through the impasse in her talks with EU leaders.

One amendment tabled by former Northern Ireland Minister Andrew Murrison would have seen the Irish border backstop – a measure designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – expire at the end of 2021.

However, the amendment, which had support among MPs, and could have limited the extent of Mrs May’s defeats, was not selected by Mr Bercow for a vote.

On March 19, 2019, the Speaker again clashed with Mrs May as he told her she could not have a third vote on “substantially the same” motion MPs had voted down for a second time only the week before.

He referenced a parliamentary convention dating back to 1604, as he told the embattled Prime Minister she could not bring her withdrawal deal back for a Commons vote again in the same form.

Mr Bercow’s intervention was highly controversial at the time, as it came just 11 days before Britain was due to leave the EU, and some ministers warned of a “constitutional crisis”.

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Months later, Mrs May resigned after failing to convince MPs to back her Brexit deal and was later replaced by Boris Johnson.

However, his Brexit agenda was also derailed by Mr Bercow, who allowed MPs to have a vote on whether to take control of Commons timetable in September 2019.

MPs voted in favour of seizing the Commons agenda in a bid to prevent Mr Johnson pursuing a no-deal Brexit.

In response, Mr Johnson called an early General Election, which the Conservatives won with a landslide majority of 80 seats.

The Speaker also sparked fury in October 2019 when he denied the Government’s request for a “yes” or “no” vote on Mr Johnson’s withdrawal agreement.

Mr Bercow said it would be “repetitive and disorderly” for the deal to be brought before MPs again after it had only just been debated.

Downing Street had wanted to hold a so-called “meaningful vote” on the deal, but MPs instead voted for an amendment, which said that could not happen until the necessary legislation had been passed.

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