The presiding officer of the UK’s House of Commons, who banned U.S. President Donald Trump from the building, has been told to resign after a damning report into bullying and harassment in Westminster.
The demand for Speaker of the House John Bercow to quit, from Sir Kevin Barron, the Chairman of the Commons’ Committee on Standards, comes as the report says “disturbing” allegations of sexual harassment by MPs had been “tolerated and concealed”.
I did not call for this lightly but I believe the change in culture has to come from the top and I no longer believe that the Speaker can provide that leadership.
I will continue to work with colleagues from across the house to ensure that we create a workplace to be proud of. https://t.co/Mzc63gk6u7
— Kevin Barron MP (@KevinBarronMP) October 16, 2018
Mr Bercow himself has been accused of bullying and intimidating two members staff, dating back to 2009, and the report slams the current system for addressing allegations as MPs often make decisions about cases which may involve themselves.
Mr Bercow strongly denies all the claims against him.
The remain-supporting speaker has repeatedly attracted controversy during his time in office, hitting the headlines in 2017 for calling a prominent Brexiteer — and now leader of the House of Commons — Andrea Leadsom a “stupid woman”.
During discussions around the visit of U.S. President Trump to the United Kingdom, Bercow let his personal dislike for the leader obstruct his work as an impartial chair when he effectively banned Trump from addressing Parliament, citing “racism” and “sexism”.
The new report, by Dame Laura Cox, 66, found that it would be “extremely difficult” for the “current senior House administration”, including the Speaker Mr Bercow, to bring about badly needed changes.
The document says Mr Bercow is not in a position to address an alleged culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” among staff in the House of Commons.
Angela Eagle is also asking for one today. If Speaker John Bercow decides not to grant one Andrea Leadsom is considering a statement. Feels like a tipping point. https://t.co/ygk5yDTQIU
— Christopher Hope (@christopherhope) October 16, 2018
It also includes shock claims of “inappropriate touching” happening to women in parliament, including male staff “trying to kiss them, grabbing their arms or bottoms or stroking their breasts or bottoms”.
Sir Kevin, 71, wrote in The Times: “The change in culture has to come from the top, and unfortunately I no longer believe that the Speaker, John Bercow, is the correct person to provide that leadership, so he should step down.”
“Questions about his own behaviour towards staff still linger,” the veteran Labour MP, adds.
“There is a feeling among staff that if allegations against the Speaker can be ignored then the chance of any other complaint progressing is slim.”
Maria Miller, the Conservative chairman of the women and equalities committee, also called on Mr Bercow to resign.
I have asked the Speaker for an Urgent Question in House of Commons today on recommendations in Dame Laura Cox Report-inaction risks undermining the legitimacy of the House of Commons & staff deserve to know what action is being taken https://t.co/AGLV61tfWY via @PoliticsHome
— Maria_Miller (@MariaMillerUK) October 16, 2018
Miller told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she agreed with Sir Kevin, saying “the legitimacy of the House of Commons is undermined by having this sort of behaviour and culture prevail”.
She said: “The report is incredibly powerful and clear that what is the root problem here is that the bullying and harassment is coming right from the top. We have outstanding allegations directly against the Speaker.”
Mr Bercow, she said, “will be one of the people who will be considering this report, and it cannot be right that the very people who are being criticised so heavily in an independent report are those who are going to be deciding how it is taken forward”.
Bercow was not without friends, however, among calls for him to step down. Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry told Sky News Tuesday morning that: “I think this is absolutely not the time to be changing speaker.
“We don’t know, for example, with regard to Brexit, what is going to happen, whether there’s going to be, technically, an amendable motion or not, whether it’s going to be the speaker’s discretion whether it is. We do need to have all hands to the deck at the moment.”
It's not looking good for Bercow https://t.co/etqn32LOrX
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 13, 2017