John Bercow defiant as minister reignites Brexit row

PA

John Bercow struck a defiant tone as he clashed with a Cabinet minister in the Commons over his conduct on Brexit.

The Commons Speaker said he will go on chairing the business of the House “no matter how much abuse I get”, telling MPs: “It’s water off a duck’s back as far as I am concerned.”

His remarks came after Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom criticised his handling of proceedings, which came to a head over the Brexit Plan B process.

Furious scenes erupted in the Commons on Wednesday after Mr Bercow selected an amendment from Tory former minister Dominic Grieve which attempts to speed up the process for the Government to reveal what it will do next if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is rejected.

The Speaker faced a backlash from Tory MPs, including suggestions of showing bias, as they claimed the motion under consideration was “unamendable” – in line with how such matters are usually treated in the Commons.

Mrs Leadsom was told by SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart that Mr Bercow’s decision was about “Parliament taking back control”.

She responded that it was the Speaker’s role to “uphold the rules that Parliament has made for itself, not to arbitrarily change those rules”.

Mrs Leadsom added: “So, yesterday was not an example of Parliament taking back control, it was an example of a differentiation between those members who were told that it was unamendable and undebatable, and those who were told differently.”

Mr Bercow hit back, saying: “There was nothing arbitrary about the conduct of the chair yesterday.

“This Speaker is well aware of how to go about the business of chairing the proceedings of the House because he’s been doing so for nine and a half years.

“I hope colleagues will understand when I say that I require no lessons or lectures from others about how to discharge my obligations to Parliament and in support of the rights of backbench parliamentarians.”

Mr Bercow added: “I have been doing it, I’m continuing to do it and I will go on doing it, no matter how much abuse I get from whatever quarter. It’s water off a duck’s back as far as I am concerned.”

Cabinet meeting
Cabinet meeting

He piped up again after Mrs Leadsom reiterated that she was advised Mr Grieve’s amendment “would not be selectable”.

The Speaker intervened to say it was his responsibility as chair to select amendments.

He said: “It is a matter for the representative and champion of Parliament, it is not a matter for a representative of the executive branch – who is the executive’s representative in the chamber of the House of Commons.

“I’ll do my job and other people can seek to do theirs.”

Mrs Leadsom earlier confirmed that the Government would abide by Mr Grieve’s amendment, which asks the Government to outline a revised Brexit plan within three sitting days if the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated next week.

The original process, as outlined in law, requires a statement within 21 days of the deal being rejected.

Mrs Leadsom said: “Of course the Government will do so, the Prime Minister has shown her willingness to always return to this House, at the first possible opportunity, if there is anything to report in terms of our deal and we will continue to do so.”

She also accused Labour former minister Chris Leslie of “mansplaining my job to me” after he claimed she was “struggling to reconcile herself with being in the losing position”.

Mr Leslie asked if MPs would be allowed to debate on January 21 what happens next – in order to comply with Mr Grieve’s amendment.