John Bercow’s Brexit shutdown: Five times former Commons Speaker frustrated EU exit

John Bercow clashes with Sky News host during interview

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Boris Johnson was not in the House of Commons today for Prime Minister’s Questions. The Prime Minister was absent from the weekly questioning session because he has flown to the United Arab Emirates. The Tory leader will also travel to Saudi Arabia as he seeks to spearhead an “international coalition” against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr Johnson will also discuss energy policy as he takes part in talks for the world to “wean itself off” Russian oil and gas.

Amid his trip abroad, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab took his place in the Commons at midday today.

He traded blows with Labour’s Deputy leader, Angela Rayner, who filled in for the party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who usually appears at the dispatch box for PMQs.

The war in Ukraine was high on the agenda, including how the Government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme for members of the public to open their homes to refugees is going to work.

Presiding over PMQs was Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, who took over from his predecessor, John Bercow, who stepped down in 2019 after a controversial 10-year stint in the chair.

The former Conservative MP for Buckingham, who voted for the UK to remain in the EU, notoriously tried to Brexit on at least five occasions.

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Mr Bercow, who outlasted three prime ministers during his tenure, tried to frustrate the Brexit process during Theresa May’s era.

In December 2018, the Speaker warned the Government that it should have consulted MPs before axing a Brexit vote on the then-Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

She “deferred” the vote so she could continue talks with EU leaders.

Mr Bercow described the situation as “regrettable” after he tried but failed to get the Government to agree to give MPs a choice about whether the vote went ahead.

The following month, in early 2019, the Speaker allowed backbench MPs to amend a business motion in the Commons to force the Government to publish its Brexit strategy earlier than it wanted to.

Mr Bercow was accused of “unilaterally changing” parliamentary rules after he permitted MPs a vote on an amendment to reduce the timetable for Mrs May to prepare a Brexit “Plan B” to put before Parliament.

In March 2019, the Speaker also stopped the then-Prime Minister holding a third “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal.

Mr Bercow cited a parliamentary convention dating back to 1604 as he rejected another vote.

He warned the ex-Tory leader that she would have to make changes to the deal before bringing it before MPs again.

After Mrs May resigned as Prime Minister in May 2019, she was succeeded by Boris Johnson, who also found a Brexit foe in Mr Bercow.

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The speaker allowed backbenchers to seize control of the Commons timetable in September 2019.

The move was intended to allow MPs to pass laws preventing Mr Johnson from pushing through a no-deal Brexit.

The actions delayed the Prime Minister’s Brexit agenda, who responded by calling a General Election, which his Conservative Party won in a landslide.

In October that year, the Speaker refused to allow the Government to hold a second vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

He said the content of the motion was the same, so holding a vote on it would be “repetitive and disorderly”.

What do you think?

In a dramatic intervention the previous month, Mr Bercow had warned Mr Johnson at the annual Bingham lecture in London that he would not be limited by the parliamentary rulebook in his attempts to prevent the Prime Minister carrying out an illegal Brexit.

He said: “If we come close to [Johnson ignoring the law], I would imagine Parliament would want to cut off that possibility.

“Neither the limitations of the existing rulebook or ticking of the clock will stop it doing so.

“If I have been remotely ambiguous so far, let me make myself crystal clear.

“The only form of Brexit that we have, whenever that might be, will be a Brexit that the House of Commons has explicitly endorsed.”

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