John Bercow found to be ‘serial bully’ and liar by independent inquiry

Ex-Speaker should have been expelled from parliament had he remained an MP, panel says

John Bercow should have been expelled from parliament had he remained an MP, an independent inquiry has found, calling him a “serial bully” and a liar.

The former Black Rod Lt Gen David Leakey told the Guardian Bercow should never again hold any form of public office. Labour suspended him from the party, pending an investigation.

Bercow, who has been banned from holding a parliamentary pass, called the investigation “amateurish” and said he could circumvent any ban by being let in by a “friendly passholder”.

Complainants described Bercow’s “amazing display of temper” including an incident where he ordered a staff member to stay seated “then threw the mobile phone right in front of me on my desk and it burst into hundreds of bits and I could feel them hitting me”.

In an excoriating verdict on Bercow’s conduct during a decade as Speaker, the independent panel found his behaviour “fell very far below that which the public has a right to expect from any member of parliament”. It upheld 21 out of 35 complaints against him by former staff.

Its sanction decision said: “The findings of the parliamentary commissioner for standards, which we have upheld, show that the respondent has been a serial bully … His evidence in the investigations, the findings of the commissioner, and his submissions to us, show also that the respondent has been a serial liar.”

The report said: “The respondent’s conduct was so serious that, had he still been a member of parliament, we would have determined that he should be expelled by resolution of the house.”

It described how Bercow had approached the investigation, including mimicking one complainant, Lord Lisvane, “on at least 20 occasions” during the course of their conversation with an investigator.

Bercow said the complainants had been resisting his attempts to modernise parliament and said the inquiry been “a protracted, amateurish and unjust process which would not have survived five minutes’ scrutiny in court”.

But Kate Emms, the former Speaker’s secretary who made formal allegations against Bercow, said she had been “vindicated” and described how it had taken a toll on her life.

“The impacts of the one and only genuinely horrible, undermining and consistently upsetting period of my career has spread into all areas of my life. Stress, anxiety and loss of confidence sent me home on sick leave and affected how I saw myself and how I felt I was seen by family, friends and colleagues.”

The panel gave its findings after Bercow appealed against an initial report by Kathryn Stone, the standards commissioner.

The panel dismissed Bercow’s appeals against those decisions, concluding in one case that he had “been widely unreliable and repeatedly dishonest in his evidence”.

As the Speaker, Bercow made a number of high-profile stands against the government’s use of Brexit legislation, allowing a number of unorthodox challenges by MPs. But his final years in the role were dogged by allegations of bullying, including claims of swearing at officials and throwing his mobile phone.

The allegations were brought by Lord Lisvane, the former clerk of the Commons, and the private secretaries Angus Sinclair and Emms.

Leakey’s complaint against Bercow was not upheld but he gave detailed testimony as a witness to other complainants. He told the Guardian: “Bercow has never ever said one word of contrition to anyone. He never put in place a process to deal with bullying when he had an opportunity to do so.

“In my view, that disqualifies him from a role anywhere in public life or in any position of leadership or governance. He is uniquely disqualified.”

Several of the complainants kept detailed records of the abuse. Sinclair said he was berated and sworn at for answering a press inquiry on members’ pay, noting that the Speaker called him “fucking stupid”.

Emms made repeated complaints that Bercow had made personal attacks on her, belittled her in public, mimicked her and brought her to tears.

Lisvane also made multiple complaints about being belittled, backed by a senior MP who claimed Bercow would speak “in a brutal and demeaning way, such as: ‘You come here with your privileged background and offer your opinion, but I’m not interested in your opinion.’”

The sub-panel of the independent experts chaired by Sir Stephen Irwin, a former court of appeal judge, found that parliament’s bullying and harassment policy was “breached repeatedly and extensively by the most senior member of the House of Commons”.

“He has attempted to defeat these complaints by false accusations of collusion and by advancing lies,” it said.

Bercow, a former Conservative MP, stepped down as Speaker and left the Commons in 2019. He was later denied a peerage despite being nominated by the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Last year, he announced he had joined the Labour party.

In a lengthy response to the report, the former Speaker said: “Parliament is supposed to be the highest court in the land. This inquiry, which lasted a ghastly 22 months at great cost to the taxpayer, has failed it dismally. At the end of it, the panel has simply said that I should be denied a parliamentary pass, which I have never applied for and do not want. That is the absurdity of its position.”


Jessica Elgot and Rowena Mason

The GuardianTramp

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