U.K. Speaker Under Pressure From Tories Over Brexit and Trump

  • ‘Score sheet is mounting up’ against Bercow, Whittingdale says
  • Labour deputy leader ‘absolutely’ has confidence in speaker

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow faced increased pressure to quit from pro-Brexit members of Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s Conservative Party after disclosing that he voted last year for the U.K. to remain in the European Union.

Bercow, whose position as the independent chairman of Parliament’s lower chamber means he is supposed to remain impartial, was already sharply criticized over an announcement last week that he’ll veto any plan for U.S. President Donald Trump to speak in Parliament when he makes a state visit to the U.K. this year.

John Bercow

Photographer: Rick Findler/PA Wire

“The score sheet is mounting up and there’s a lot of criticism on a wide variety of things now,” former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said on ITV’s “Peston on Sunday” program. “I was very unhappy about his comments concerning Donald Trump. I thought that they were damaging and actually it was a bit of grandstanding by John.”

Tory lawmaker James Duddridge submitted a motion of no confidence in the speaker after Bercow’s Trump comments. A vote can’t be held until Parliament reconvenes on Feb. 20 following a recess. 

Bercow’s remarks on Brexit, recorded on video in an appearance before students at Reading University earlier this month, were reported by the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “This may not be popular with some people in this audience,” the speaker said. “Personally I voted to ‘Remain.’ I thought it was better to stay in the European Union than not.”

‘Strongly Opposed’

At the start of last week, Bercow made a surprise announcement in the Commons that after Trump’s order banning people in some majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S. he was “even more strongly opposed” to the president making a speech in Parliament, an honor accorded to some heads of state visiting the U.K. The announcement drew applause from opposition lawmakers. No date has yet been set for Trump’s trip to Britain.

Bercow, who left the Conservatives when he became speaker, has frequently irritated his former party colleagues. Ministers are far more likely to be summoned to the chamber to answer questions on topical matters or policy announcements than they were under immediate predecessor, Michael Martin.

An attempt to oust the speaker is highly unusual. There has only been one successful effort in more than 300 years -- the unseating of Martin in 2009. But Martin was deeply tarnished by an expenses scandal that ripped through Parliament that year, and his removal was supported by lawmakers on all sides. In the event, he resigned before a motion of no confidence in him was debated.

‘Strong Reaction’

David Lidington, the minister responsible for scheduling business in the Commons, rejected suggestions that the speaker had ever shown pro-EU bias when presiding over sessions but said it’s up to lawmakers to decide on any action about Bercow, not the government.

“There will be strong reaction among some MPs to what he said,” Lidington told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show.” “Ultimately the speaker has to command the confidence of the House of Commons as a whole.”

The main Labour opposition’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, spoke in favor of Bercow, saying the party “absolutely” has confidence in the speaker. “He’s one of the great speakers the House of Commons has seen,” Watson said on the BBC.

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