Bercow times resignation to limit government influence on successor

Standing down on October 31st empowers sitting parliament to decide who replaces him

The speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has announced that he is to stand down as speaker and as an MP at the end of the current parliament, Bercow has served as speaker since June 2009. Video: UK Parliament TV


John Bercow has announced he will stand down as speaker of the House of Commons on October 31st, the day Britain is due to leave the European Union. In a personal statement to MPs on Monday, Mr Bercow said his timing would ensure that his successor would be chosen by the current parliament.

“It will mean that a ballot is held when all members have some knowledge of the candidates. This is far preferable to a contest at the beginning of a parliament, when new MPs will not be similarly informed and may find themselves vulnerable to undue institutional influence. We would not want anyone to be whipped senseless, would we?” he said.

Mr Bercow’s announcement came after the Conservatives said they would break with convention by standing a candidate against the speaker in his Buckingham constituency. Relations between the speaker and the government have become poisonous in recent years and Brexiteers complained that he showed a bias against Britain leaving the EU.

MPs from all parties paid tribute to Mr Bercow’s 10 years in the chair after his announcement, however, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he had always acted on behalf of parliament.

Democracy ‘stronger’

“This parliament is the stronger for your being speaker. Our democracy is the stronger for your being the speaker. Whatever you do when you finally step down from parliament, you do so with the thanks of a very large number of people, and as one who has made the role of speaker in the House more powerful, not less powerful,” Mr Corbyn said.

Mr Bercow’s decision to step down before the next election means the government, which has no majority, will have limited influence on the choice of his successor. Among the early frontrunners are deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman.

Throughout his tenure in the chair, Mr Bercow has taken a liberal approach to allowing MPs to hold the government to account with urgent questions and emergency debates. Following an emergency debate on Monday, MPs voted to demand that the government release details of communications between ministers and officials ahead of the decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks and to publish documents about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Made ‘ineffective’

“We as a house are about to be prorogued and rendered entirely ineffective until the October 14th. This is the choice of the government. The routes I might have wished to have taken to see this matter properly investigated simply do not match the time available to do it,” said former Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, who initiated the debate.

Mr Corbyn opened a second emergency debate calling on Boris Johnson to promise to obey a law that came into force on Monday demanding that the prime minister should seek a three-month delay to Brexit if he has not secured a deal by October 19th.

“Parliament has passed a law to ensure that the will of parliament is upheld. The fact it has felt compelled to do so is extraordinary,” Mr Corbyn said.

In her resignation honours list announced early on Tuesday morning, Theresa May nominated Conservative Party donors and Downing Street advisers for peerages and other honours. Her EU adviser Olly Robbins, widely criticised by Brexiteers for his handling of the negotiations, receives a knighthood and her former chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.

Among those nominated for peerages is Margaret Ritchie, former SDLP leader and MP for South Down from 2010 to 2017.