Commons Speaker John Bercow forced to deny anti-Brexit bias in major bust-up with MPs
Speaker John Bercow has been forced to deny being biased against Brexit as a major row broke out over his decision to let MPs vote to force a three-day ‘plan B’ deadline on Theresa May’s deal.
The Speaker enraged Conservative MPs by allowing a vote on an amendment tabled by Remain-supporting Dominic Grieve that means the Government will now have just three days to come back with an alternative if MPs reject the Prime Minister’s deal next week.
Brexiteers lined up to condemn the Speaker for choosing the amendment - which was backed by 308 MPs to 297 - while ministers demanded he reveal whether he had gone against official advice.
Tory MP Crispin Blunt said it would give eurosceptics an “unshakeable conviction” that the Speaker was “no longer neutral”, while fellow Conservative Adam Holloway accused him of making his opposition to Brexit clear with a “Bollocks to Brexit” sticker on his car.
Mr Holloway blasted: “We've all noticed in recent months a sticker on your car making derogatory comments about Brexit.”
As he was shouted down by Labour MPs, he continued: "No - this is a serious point about partiality. Have you driven that car with the sticker there?"
The Speaker shot back, accusing Mr Holloway of making a “factual error” and rejecting the claim that he aimed to thwart Brexit.
“That sticker on the subject of Brexit happens to be affixed to or in the windscreen of my wife's car,” Mr Bercow said.
“And I’m sure the Honourable Gentleman wouldn't suggest for one moment that a wife is somehow the property or chattel of her husband?
“She is entitled to her views: that sticker is not mine - and that’s the end of it.”
As Conservatives raised a raft of points of order accusing the Speaker of bias, Mr Bercow insisted he had always worked to “champion the rights of members wishing to put their particular point of view on a range of issues”.
He said: “I have always been scrupulously fair to Brexiteers and Remainers alike as I have always been to people of different opinions on a miscellany of other issues.
“That has been the case, it is the case, it will continue to be the case.”
But Brexiteer Mark Francois accused Mr Bercow of flying in the face of centuries of parliamentary convention by granting the amendment to a motion the Government believed could only be tweaked by a minister.
“I have never known any occasion when any speaker has over-ruled a motion of the House of Commons...” he fumed.
“You have said again and again you are a servant of this House. And we take you at your word. And I have heard you many times on points of order, when people have challenged you, saying ‘I cannot do X or Y because I am bound by a motion of the House’.
"You’ve done that multiple times in my experience. So why are you overriding a motion of the House today?”
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom - who has previously clashed with Mr Bercow from the Government frontbench - meanwhile demanded that the Speaker reveal whether or not he had been advised against pressing ahead with the controversial move by his officials.
She asked: “Did the Clerk of the Commons propose that your solution was acceptable or did the Clerk advise against it?”
Mr Bercow hit back, saying he had “discussed the matter” with advisers - and defended the move as “entirely proper”.
But he refused to be drawn on whether he had pressed ahead in the face of opposition, saying only: “The Clerk offered me advice. We talked about the situation that faced the House today and at the end of our discussion, when I had concluded as I did, he undertook to advise me further in the treatment of this matter.
“That seems to me to be entirely proper. That is the situation and I think that is what colleagues would expect."
Downing Street also waded into the row, with a spokesperson for the Prime Minister telling reporters: "We are surprised the amendment was selected. The advice we received was that it would not be in order."