Boris Johnson leads tributes to 'tennis ball machine' John Bercow as outgoing Speaker chairs longest ever PMQs

Posted On: 
30th October 2019

Boris Johnson led cross-party tributes to John Bercow as the outgoing Commons Speaker presided over the longest session of Prime Minister's Questions on record.

The outgoing Commons Speaker thanked family and staff for their support over his decade in the job.
Credit: 
PA

The Prime Minister praised Mr Bercow - due to step down on Thursday after more than a decade as Speaker - as a "great servant" of Parliament, while Labour's Jeremy Corbyn said he had given "real power to backbenchers".

The tributes came during a one hour and eleven minute-long PMQs marathon - smashing the previous record of 58 minutes set during Theresa May's final appearance at the despatch box.

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Paying homage to Mr Bercow, the Prime Minister quipped that he had "done more than anyone since Stephen Hawking to stretch time in this particular session".

And he made reference to the former tennis career of the departing Speaker, who was once ranked as Britain's number one junior player.

"I know the whole House will want to join me in recording that, after ten tumultuous years, this is your last Prime Minister's questions," Mr Johnson said.

"And as befits a distinguished former Wimbledon competitor, you have sat there in your high chair not just as an umpire - ruthlessly adjudicating on the finer points of Parliamentary procedure with your trademark Tony Montana scowl, not just as a commentator offering your own opinions on the rallies you are watching - sometimes acerbic and sometimes kindly - but above all, as a player in your own right, peppering every part of the chamber with your own thoughts and opinions like some tennis ball machine, delivering a series of literally unplayable, unreturnable... volleys and smashes.

"And although we may disagree about some of the legislative innovations that you have favoured, there is no doubt in my mind that you have been a great servant of this Parliament and of this House of Commons."

Mr Bercow has repeatedly clashed with ministers in recent years over a series of controversial rulings on key Brexit legislaiton.

But the Prime Minister said Mr Bercow had "modernised" Parliament and had "cared so deeply for the rights of backbenchers".

In a dig at Mr Bercow's preference for archaic words, he added: "Mr Speaker, I'm sure the whole House will want to join me in thanking you and hoping that you enjoy in your retirement the soothing medicament that you have so often prescribed for the rest of us."

Mr Corbyn meanwhile praised Mr Bercow's time in the Speaker's chair, saying he had "stood up for Parliament" against the executive when needed.

"You've done so much to reform this House of Commons and our democracy is the stronger for the way that you've done it," the Labour leader said.

"You have served for ten years, you've given real power to backbenchers, vastly expanded the use of urgent questions - which has been overwhelmingly popular with all government ministers - and opened up the number of emergency debates, which is even more popular with even more government ministers. 

"And... you've stood up for Parliament when it has to be stood up for. We thank you for that."

'MODERNISING'

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson dubbed Mr Bercow a "modernising Speaker", adding: "From topicality of debates to promoting diversity within the staff of the House, to reforms to support parents who are MPs, you have helped to drag this institution out of the past so it can face the future."

And the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Bercow had "stood up for the democracy of this House in order that in this time of crisis we can hold the Government to account".

"We trust that you enjoy your many passions in retirement. You'll always be welcome up in Scotland and if you need to visit a football team as an antidote to Arsenal, you'll always be welcome at Easter Road to see the mighty Hibernian," the SNP boss quipped. 

The Speaker, who originally pledged to stand down in June last year, won applause as he thanked the party leaders for the "kind and generous personal remarks" and praised staff for the "terrific bond" they had shared.

His voice cracking with emotion, the Speaker added: "And in particular again I want to thank my wife Sally and our three children Oliver, Freddie and Jemimah for the support, stoicism and fortitude which they've displayed through thick and thin over the last decade. I'll never forget and I'll always be grateful for it."

MPs are currently due to vote for Mr Bercow's successor on November 4, with nine candidates currently battling it out for the job.