January 09, 2019
Whatever shape Brexit takes, the effects of this unilateral change to parliamentary rules will be felt for a long time
John Bercows decision endangers the office of Speaker, and our democracy | Anne Perkins
The row over the Speaker’s decision may look like a particularly indulgent form of deckchair rearrangement. But in parliamentary terms it is historic. And whatever form Brexit finally takes, it will be part of the shape of the Britain that emerges.
On Wednesday morning John Bercow was widely reported to have ignored the considered advice of the official guardians of the rules of procedure, and allowed a cross-party amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve to be voted on.
The amendment, which was passed, forces the prime minister to come back within three sitting days if her withdrawal agreement is voted down, rather than the three weeks imposed by an earlier Grieve amendment. Its backers say it just puts the timetable back where it would have been if the prime minister hadn’t ducked the vote before Christmas. It would open up the possibility of a proper debate about what to do next. But should the Speaker have let the vote happen at all?
The rules that govern debate and law-making in parliament are theological both in their density and history. For those who think in such terms, they are the nearest thing to a written constitution that Britain has, and the clerks, the men and women whose job is, among other things, to make sure the rules are observed, have a certain priestly status.
First elected when parliament’s reputation was at its shabbiest in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, Bercow has done a lot to enhance the powers of backbenchers. Two long periods of governments with big majorities and big reform agendas had eroded the devious tactics used by wily MPs and well-organised oppositions to slow headstrong ministers. Bercow’s championing of backbench rights has earned him the support of many MPs, which has seen him through some recent times when his hold on power has looked downright shaky as allegations of bullying (which he denies) pursue him.
Margaret Beckett, the former Labour cabinet minister, may have been indiscreet when she said she’d back him despite the bullying allegations because he’d be a useful ally in the Brexit battle – “if it comes to the constitutional future of this country, the most difficult decision we have made, not since the war but possibly, certainly in all our lifetimes, hundreds of years ... it trumps bad behaviour” – but she was only acknowledging what everyone already knew: the Speaker, supposed to be a pillar of impartiality, was a remainer.
Bercow is not the first Speaker to make a unilateral change to the parliamentary rules. But it would be fair to say it doesn’t happen often. Experts who know their history point to the power to shut down debate (“a closure motion”) which was introduced by Speaker Brand after Irish MPs stopped all progress on a government bill for five days in a row. That was in 1880, approximately 140 years ago.
But the real point about Bercow’s actions is the furious accusations of party bias that it has provoked from his critics. “The political impartiality of the Speaker is a key feature of the office, while the role’s authority has developed over time alongside other procedural reforms” intones the Commons guide to the office of Speaker. It’s one thing to stand up for backbenchers against a powerful executive. It’s quite another to use the office to advance a political cause.
In the end, the judgment will rest on whether the failure of government and parliament as a whole to find any grounds for agreement on Brexit legitimises intervention on one side by the Speaker – or whether instead it marks a wanton disregard for the rule of law. Everyone knows where unchecked law-breaking can lead. The Speaker takes a grave risk when he appears to ignore the rules. At the least, it makes it harder to insist the government observes the rules next time.
Everyone who is fighting to reverse the decision to leave the EU because it is a wanton act of self-harm has a parallel duty, to ensure that it is done in a way that promotes rather than undermines democracy. Brexit is already doing terrible damage, and it’s not all on one side. The Speaker should be very careful of doing anything to make it worse.
Related Stories
Latest News
Top news around the world
Coronavirus Disease

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

Around the World

Celebrity News

> Latest News in Media

Watch It
Julia Fox defends viral ‘Uncut Gems’ interview moment: ‘I was stoned’ | Page Six Celebrity News
February 17, 2022
4m-p0_-ePd8
Alexia Echevarria pushed ‘RHOM’ producers to show more of son Frankie’s recovery | Page Six
February 17, 2022
E-wTaN9NfkI
Pete Davidson rejoins Instagram amid Kanye West drama | Page Six Celebrity News
February 17, 2022
SsC3dmsI6t4
Aaron Rodgers And Shailene Woodley Reportedly Break Up | TMZ LIVE
February 17, 2022
FoErdRE8Qe4
Chet Hanks Done Talking About Famous Parents, Becoming Personal Trainer | TMZ
February 16, 2022
5_UrULOkQ6o
Woman Stabbed at Foot Locker During Nike Shoe Release
February 16, 2022
TfuXMs1JdVg
Steph's Freaky Side, "Summer House" & "Love During Lockup"
February 17, 2022
9W_raO0zlA8
Tay or Nay, Offset's Sushi Anxiety & Nick on Monogamy
February 17, 2022
PauYHpJRA6o
Kim Kardashian & North West TWINNING in Matching Pajamas | E! News
February 17, 2022
b-_Oib6R108
Adam McKay - Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony
February 17, 2022
tYtzsHoOZzo
Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, and the Cast of 'Uncharted' Talk Most Challenging Stunts
February 15, 2022
d3ksX-SKi8c
Ryan Reynolds and Walker Scobell on ‘The Adam Project’, ‘Deadpool’, and Possible ‘Star Wars’ Role
February 16, 2022
5TxJsbJr9Dk
TV Schedule
Late Night Show
Watch the latest shows of U.S. top comedians

Sports

Latest sport results, news, videos, interviews and comments
Latest Events
04
May
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Playoffs
Seattle Sounders - Pumas
04
May
USA: Major League Soccer
FC Cincinnati - Toronto FC
03
May
ENGLAND: Championship
Bournemouth - Nottingham Forest
02
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Brentford
02
May
ENGLAND: Championship
Fulham - Luton
02
May
SPAIN: La Liga
Getafe - Real Betis
02
May
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Bayer Leverkusen - Eintracht Frankfurt
02
May
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Borussia Monchengladbach - RB Leipzig
02
May
ITALY: Serie A
Atalanta - Salernitana
01
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur - Leicester City
01
May
SPAIN: La Liga
Barcelona - Mallorca
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
Roma - Bologna
01
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
West Ham United - Arsenal
01
May
ENGLAND: Premier League
Everton - Chelsea
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
Udinese - Inter Milan
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
AC Milan - Fiorentina
01
May
ITALY: Serie A
Juventus - Venezia
01
May
SPAIN: La Liga
Rayo Vallecano - Real Sociedad
30
Apr
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Mainz - Bayern Munich
30
Apr
GERMANY: Bundesliga
Borussia Dortmund - Bochum
30
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Newcastle United - Liverpool
30
Apr
SPAIN: La Liga
Athletic Bilbao - Atletico Madrid
30
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Leeds - Manchester City
30
Apr
SPAIN: La Liga
Real Madrid - Espanyol
30
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Napoli - Sassuolo
28
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Chelsea
27
Apr
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Semifinal
Liverpool - Villarreal
27
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Bologna - Inter Milan
26
Apr
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Semifinal
Manchester City - Real Madrid
25
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Sassuolo - Juventus
24
Apr
SPAIN: La Liga
Barcelona - Rayo Vallecano
24
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Lazio - AC Milan
24
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Liverpool - Everton
24
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Chelsea - West Ham United
24
Apr
ITALY: Serie A
Empoli - Napoli
23
Apr
ENGLAND: Premier League
Brentford - Tottenham Hotspur
Find us on Instagram
at @feedimo to stay up to date with the latest.
Featured Video You Might Like
zWJ3MxW_HWA L1eLanNeZKg i1XRgbyUtOo -g9Qziqbif8 0vmRhiLHE2U JFCZUoa6MYE UfN5PCF5EUo 2PV55f3-UAg W3y9zuI_F64 -7qCxIccihU pQ9gcOoH9R8 g5MRDEXRk4k
Copyright © 2020 Feedimo. All Rights Reserved.