John Bercow supporters stage counterattack amid no-confidence plot

MPs backing the Speaker are increasingly nervous after video of his comments on EU referendum emerged over the weekend

Supporters of John Bercow in parliament have mounted a counter-campaign to save the Speaker’s job after the Tory MP who is leading the plot to oust him claimed to have widespread support at all levels of parliament.

James Duddridge, the Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East, who is calling on MPs to sign a motion of no confidence in the Speaker, said Bercow was “haemorrhaging support”, with more than half of the current cabinet backing his campaign.

Only a few Tory MPs have publicly declared opposition to the Speaker, including the former cabinet minister John Whittingdale, Andrew Bridgen, Karl McCartney, Daniel Kawczynski and Nadine Dorries.

But backers of the Speaker have become increasingly nervous after a video of Bercow telling students he voted to remain in the EU surfaced over the weekend, despite the requirement that he remains politically neutral.

The revelation added to Duddridge’s campaign to get him to step down, which began last week after Bercow expressed opposition to Donald Trump addressing both houses of parliament over concerns on issues of “racism” and “sexism”.

The government has not publicly given its support to Bercow, saying it is a matter for parliament. Sources have indicated MPs would be given a free vote if the motion makes it to the floor of the Commons.

However, many of Bercow’s supporters are counting on the government to quietly make efforts to dispel the rebellion and avoid destabilising parliament at a time when it wants to get crucial Brexit legislation passed.

It is understood there have been some cross-party discussions on ways to keep him in post, and more voices are likely to line up to back him later in the week. Some are likely to make private efforts to persuade the speaker to restate his intention to step down in 2018 in the hope that this will make the revolt melt away.

Most public support for Bercow has so far come from opposition parties, who value his record on holding the government to account by granting urgent questions and giving time to backbenchers.

Among Labour MPs to express support for Bercow on Monday was Harriet Harman, the party’s former acting leader, who said the Speaker wants the Commons to be “strong, relevant, able to challenge the government and high-profile – which government hates”.

Bercow was also backed by Tom Brake, the Lib Dem former deputy leader of the Commons, who said the speaker was “even-handed” in his job and while the Speaker’s style “may feel like Marmite to some … in practice he is balanced”.

Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes, also said it was only a “tiny minority” calling for the Speaker to resign. “He discussed his personal views in private with students, hardly a crisis,” she said.

Among Brexit supporters, Douglas Carswell, the Ukip MP, suggested that destabilising parliament could hinder the process of leaving the EU.

He said Bercow had overreached himself but added: “That doesn’t make another Tory challenge to Bercow a good idea. Because the one thing we don’t need now is a Commons chaos.

“Parliament has serious votes on the great repeal bill ahead. Majorities could be tight. Remainer MPs will continue to frustrate the referendum result. Brexiteers should be exclusively focused on winning those fights – not picking others. Nothing else matters.”

He added: “I’m very doubtful this initiative has any credibility under the standing orders of the House. It doesn’t appear to be a substantive motion.”

Bercow had the support of a number of Tory Brexit backers when the government mounted an attempt to make it easier to oust the Speaker in 2015, partly because he supported a backbench bid in 2013 to force David Cameron into a referendum.

One MP who strongly supports Brexit added: “He has been nothing other than scrupulously fair to the Brexit cause. The idea that he cannot be trusted to be fair to the Brexiteers is patently preposterous.”

While some in parliament are sceptical that Bercow’s enemies will be able to achieve a vote on the Speaker’s future, Duddridge claimed on Monday morning he has been advised parliament will provide time for a motion of no confidence to be debated and the government has assured him there will be a free vote.

“Ministers have been on the phone to me over the weekend, as well as backbenchers and people of all political parties, saying they will vote with me in the lobbies against Speaker Bercow. Enough is enough, we need a new impartial Speaker,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

Bercow meanwhile is on a trip to Israel while the Commons is in recess to speak about the role of the British parliament.


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Bercow begins his long goodbye by inflicting more Tory turmoil | John Crace
The Speaker’s resignation comes on yet another day of humiliations for Boris Johnson

John Crace

09, Sep, 2019 @8:03 PM

Article image
Government won't stand in the way of attempt to remove John Bercow
Commons leader says No 10 will abide by convention of leaving question of who is Speaker to parliament

Heather Stewart Political editor

12, Feb, 2017 @8:22 PM

Article image
What has John Bercow done now?
Everything you need to know about decision by Commons Speaker to stop MPs voting for third time on PM’s deal

Peter Walker Political correspondent

18, Mar, 2019 @6:59 PM

Article image
Investigation into Commons bullying to follow Bercow claims
Andrea Leadsom reveals move as suspended Labour MP Debbie Abrahams makes a counter-claim

Jessica Elgot and Anushka Asthana

12, Mar, 2018 @5:35 PM

Article image
Theresa May ‘surprised’ John Bercow allowed Brexit amendment
British PM calls on Commons Speaker to ‘explain decision’ as she emphasises ‘set of rules’

Dan Sabbagh

10, Jan, 2019 @8:04 PM

Article image
John Bercow defies Eurosceptics with vow to stay on as Speaker
Exclusive: move likely to anger hardliners who fear Bercow wants to stop no-deal Brexit

Julian Borger in Washington and Rowena Mason

28, May, 2019 @7:18 PM

Article image
John Bercow: Speaker unafraid to hold the government's feet to the fire
Capable of infuriating MPs, even in his referee role as Commons Speaker, Bercow is also seen by many as the backbenchers’ ally

Jessica Elgot

09, Jan, 2019 @7:53 PM

Article image
Conservatives and Lib Dems plot secret vote against John Bercow
William Hague will use his last day as MP putting forward motion that secret ballot should be held on Speaker’s future after general election

Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent

25, Mar, 2015 @10:03 PM

Article image
Reformist Speaker John Bercow places himself in eye of another storm
To supporters, the intervention on Donald Trump’s UK visit was bold and brave; to critics it was the latest step too far

Martin Kettle

10, Feb, 2017 @3:09 PM

Article image
John Bercow: Brexit is UK's biggest mistake since second world war
Former Speaker tells foreign media UK is better off as part of EU power bloc

Heather Stewart Political editor

06, Nov, 2019 @1:10 PM