House of Commons speaker John Bercow slammed the suggestion that Boris Johnson could close Parliament to force a no deal exit from the European Union without the support of MPs. Speaking at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival yesterday, the Speaker said he did not believe it would be possible to suspend parliament to force through a no deal Brexit. The Buckingham MP vowed to prevent the 77th Prime Minister from enacting this and insisted Parliament would have the right to continue to debate.
What did John Bercow say?
John Bercow said he will fight any attempts from Boris Johnson to push through a no deal exit “with every breath”.
He said: “Nobody is going to get away as far as I am concerned.”
Mr Bercow claimed the Commons could stop Britain leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement on October 31.
The comments he shared at Edinburgh Fringe Festival revealed his plans to block the Prime Minister from attempts to close parliament.
He said: “The one thing I feel strongly about is that the House of Commons must have its way.”
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“And if there is an attempt to circumvent, to bypass or – God forbid! – to close down parliament that is anathema to me and I will fight it with every bone in my body to stop that happening.
“We cannot have a situation in which parliament is shut down - we are a democratic society and parliament will be heard and nobody is going to get away as far as I am concerned with stopping that happening.”
According to The Telegraph, an audience member said when asked if Parliament could still stop a no-deal Brexit, Mr Bercow reportedly replied unequivocally: “Yes.”
But is there a precedent for this?
The Speaker has already broken convention this year when he granted Remainers the opportunity to amend a Government motion with votes on a series of Brexit scenarios.
He said precedents were there because rules had been broken, indicating he would be prepared to do the same again.
He said: “I do respect tradition, and I do respect precedent. But it is important to have a degree of political and intellectual flexibility when thinking about these matters.
“We cannot be exclusively guided by tradition in the sense of what has happened before or nothing would ever change.”
During the Tory leadership race, Mr Johnson’s team were reportedly said to be considering proroguing government in a bid to prevent MPs from rejecting another deal or a no deal exit.
The idea sparked ferocious backlash and anger from other politicians, particularly the opposition, who said if Mr Johnson did prorogue government they would legally challenge the move in the courts.
While several politicians have been outspoken about this issue, the 56-year-old Speaker was not one of them - until now.
Repeatedly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dodged questions about whether he would disregard the will of parliament, but he has said he intends to leave the EU on October 31 “come what may”.
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What powers does the House of Commons Speaker have?
The main responsibility of the Speaker is to chair debates in the Commons chamber: keeping order and calling on MPs to speak.
The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons and must remain politically impartial at all times.
They also represent the Commons to the monarch, the Lords and other authorities and chairs the House of Commons Commission.
More specifically, the Speaker calls on MPs in turn to give their opinion on an issue either during the debate when MPs signal tat they want to speak by standing up from their seat or notifying the Speaker in advance by writing.
The Speaker has full authority to make sure MPs follow the rules of the House during debates including:
Directing an MP to withdraw remarks if, for example, they use abusive language.
Suspending the sitting of the House due to serious disorder.
Suspending MPs who are deliberately disobedient - known as naming.
Asking MPs to be quiet so Members can be heard.
Mr Bercow is the deciding factor when it comes to suspending the sitting of the House, meaning he does indeed have the power to block Boris Johnson’s plans.
He was expected to stand down from his position this summer, but later rejected the idea saying: “Not just yet. I have no plans to retire at the moment.”
He said in May: “I’ve never said anything about going in July of this year. Secondly, I do feel that now is a time in which momentous events are taking place and there are great issues to be resolved and in those circumstances, it doesn’t seem to me sensible to vacate the chair.”
He added: “If I had any intention to announce on that matter … I would do so to parliament first.”
He has previously angered Brexiteers when he effectively blocked a repeated vote on Theresa May’s deal, saying the Government could not bring back the same vote twice.
It meant Theresa May could only call a vote on the Brexit deal if it was tweaked.
Who is John Bercow?
John Bercow, the Member of Parliament for Buckingham, has been the Speaker of the House of Commons since 2009.
He is the first Speaker since World War 2 to have served alongside four prime ministers and to have been elected to the post three times.
In October 2018, it was reported Mr Bercow intended to step down as Speaker in the summer of 2019, because of a report on the failure of high ranking figures in Parliament on dealing adequately with bullying of staff at Westminster.
Within the report, allegations of bullying were personally made against Mr Bercow leading to the decision to resign.
But it was later reported the Speaker planned “to stay” until the end of parliament’s session, in 2022.