Brexit and triple PM ‘disaster’ tested respect for democracy, says Commons speaker

Lindsay Hoyle tells of divisiveness of EU vote and ‘bizarre’ revolving door of ministers in 2022

People’s respect for democracy has struggled in the aftermath of Brexit and throughout a year of political turmoil in which the UK was governed by three prime ministers, Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, has said.

The former Labour MP who keeps order in the Commons said Westminster had “never seen anything like it before” with the “disaster” of three prime ministers within three months.

He said parliament had shown itself at its best in 2022 in its response to the death of the queen, which had been “very, very moving”. But people were disappointed with what went on in politics and were left “wondering what was happening to our democracy”.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, he said: “People became very, and were, disgruntled … Brexit divided the country, divided families, and people’s respect for a democracy has struggled. And, of course, we didn’t help this year with what went on.”

He described the experience of a “bizarre” revolving door of ministers in the Commons, saying “we never knew who was going to be at the dispatch box”.

“The only thing that was the continuity of parliament was myself. You know, we were running out of ministers, you couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it. As I say, when you talk to historians, you talk to senior politicians, nobody has ever seen anything like it before,” Hoyle said.

With trust in politics eroded by the scandals of the Boris Johnson era and Partygate, Rishi Sunak has promised as prime minister to bring in a new era of accountability in politics. He appointed a new adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Laurie Magnus, just before Christmas.

However, Eric Pickles, a Conservative former cabinet minister and chair of the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), said on Tuesday the government needed to go further in tightening up the system that monitors ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants going on to pick up lucrative private-sector jobs straight after leaving office.

More than a year ago, Lord Pickles proposed changing the system so ministers and senior civil servants had to give clearer reasons for why it was appropriate for them to take on any proposed appointments.

He also suggested Acoba should be able to refer any former minister to the government for flouting its advice – such as lobbying bans – and that this should be taken into account during the honours vetting process.

The government has taken no action to improve the workings of Acoba since then.

Pickles wrote in the Telegraph on Christmas Day that Acoba was “essentially toothless” and could be ignored by the “thick-skinned”. He suggested ministers should be banned for up to two years from taking roles in the sector they handled while on the frontbench.

The former cabinet minister told the BBC’s World at One on Tuesday that a new system would not need legislation and could be in place within six months.

• This article was amended on 28 December 2022. Lindsay Hoyle is a former Labour MP, not a “Labour MP” as an earlier version said.


Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

The GuardianTramp

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