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.
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.