The Speaker of the House of Commons has claimed it would be the same as “robbing a bank” if Boris Johnson declined to ask the European Union to delay Brexit again — but suggested he would be more than willing to break all the rules himself to stop Britain from leaving the EU unless it is “blessed by the House”.
“Not obeying the law must surely be a non-starter,” John Bercow said in his first speech since Parliament was prorogued, in reference to the “Surrender Act” rammed through the legislature shortly before its suspension, which forces the Prime Minister to ask for another Brexit delay and accept whatever the President of the European Council offers him.
This beggars belief: if the European Council chooses to extend Article 50 to (say) December 2025 (ie, forever), the Prime Minister must accept it. I don't understand how *any* Conservative MP can vote for this Bill: it hands back control (total control) to the EU. https://t.co/GPOJfKNh1L
— Adrian Hilton (@Adrian_Hilton) September 2, 2019
“It is astonishing that anyone has even entertained [ignoring the Act],” the Speaker continued, in response to Prime Minister Johnson’s public statements that he will not ask for another delay, and reports that the Government is looking for legal routes around the legislation.
“It would be the most terrible example to set to the rest of society. One should no more refuse to request an extension of Article 50 because of what one might regard as the noble end of departing from the EU as soon as possible than one could excuse robbing a bank,” he alleged.
The diminutive politician added, however, that he himself would be more than willing to resort to “procedural creativity” to ensure the terms of the Act are imposed, warning that “Neither the limitations of the rulebook nor the ticking of the clock will stop it.”
Speakership has not evolved to operate in this way. For a century or more, Speakers avoided controversy, or making personal attacks, were scruplously impartial, respectful and respected; careful how they exercised their power. @CommonsPACAC should consider this matter. https://t.co/OKL9x2BQVK
— Bernard Jenkin (@bernardjenkin) September 13, 2019
But Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, chairman of the Commons constitutional affairs committee and a committed Tory Brexiteer, hit back at the Speaker, warning that his traditionally neutral office had become “irretrievably politicised and radicalised” under his tenure.
“[For] the Speaker to say he is subject to no law or control because he is prepared to reinterpret any law of Parliament… it’s a kind of majoritarian dictatorship position,” Sir Bernard told the BBC Radio 4 on Friday morning, noting that — despite the 2016 vote to Leave the European Union and the subsequent 2017 snap election in which most MPs claimed they would respect the outcome — Brexiteers like himself are still “vastly outnumbered by the number of MPs who voted Remain.”
Sir Bernard suggested that, given the Speaker’s sweeping discretionary powers and the lack of any real mechanism to appeal his decisions, it would not be tenable for the speakership to remain in its current form if it becomes a more partisan office — as it is in the United States, for example.
“It would be very sensible if the Speaker is going to make a controversial decision, that should be a consensus decision amongst him and his deputies, not just a sole decision,” Jenkin suggested, alluding to Bercow’s habit of flatly rejecting the advice of the Commons clerks that some of his recent decisions — which have had the effect of empowering Remain MPs to stall if not thwart the Brexit process — have flouted standard parliamentary conventions and procedure.
Extraordinary: Sally Bercow admits 'I'm a terrible wife' after accusation of affair with Speaker John Bercow's cousin http://t.co/7jQnbfwaoZ
— Ronan Price (@RonanPrice) May 10, 2015
Meanwhile, Kate Hoey MP, one of the most popular and prominent members of the small rump of Labour Brexiteers in the House of Commons, said that Bercow’s partisan behaviour in recent weeks had “brought the whole of Parliament into complete disrepute”, and that he was “going to do anything in the next few weeks to a) keep himself in the news — because he loves to see himself in the news — and secondly to do anything he can to act as the cheerleader for the ‘Stop Brexit’ campaign”.
She added that Bercow himself had tried to “change” and “[re]inerpret” the law in Parliament to suit his purposes — and predicted “such an upsurge of anger in the country that it’s very, very worrying” if Brexit does not take place on its now twice-delayed deadline at the end of October.
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) September 13, 2019