John Bercow suspended by Labour after report brands him ‘serial bully’

Former Commons speaker will face an internal Labour investigation

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 08 March 2022 18:10
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<p>The former MP left his role as Commons speaker in 2019 </p>

The former MP left his role as Commons speaker in 2019

Former Commons speaker John Bercow has been suspended from the Labour Party after a highly critical independent inquiry branded him a “serial bully”.

The former Tory MP, who left the Commons in 2019, announced last year that he had joined Sir Keir Starmer’s party, labelling the Conservatives “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic”.

But The Independent understands Mr Bercow’s membership has now been suspended – pending the outcome of an internal Labour investigation – after a damning inquiry by parliament’s Independent Expert Panel (IEP) into bullying claims.

Published on Tuesday, the 89-page report upheld 21 allegations against Mr Bercow from three complainants, and concluded that his behaviour “had no place in any workplace”.

Mr Bercow’s conduct was found to have been so serious that the panel recommended the former speaker “should never be permitted a pass to the parliamentary estate”. The panel also stated that if he were still a MP it would recommend expelling him from the house.

The sanction means he becomes the second former MP to have the privilege of retaining a pass to the parliamentary estate revoked for life, after the ex-Labour MP Keith Vaz faced a similar sanction in 2019.

The investigation by the IEP was launched after Mr Bercow appealed against the findings of an initial investigation by Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, who had upheld 21 allegations made by Lord Lisvane, the former clerk of the Commons, and private secretaries Kate Emms and Angus Sinclair.

They included events between 2009 and 2015, with the report detailing verbal abuse, displays of anger, and “undermining behaviour” against Mr Sinclair.

Ms Stone also upheld allegations made by Ms Emms, a current member of the Commons staff, who claimed Mr Bercow had mimicked her, created an “intimidating and hostile environment”, and was responsible for “intimidating, insulting behaviour involving an abuse of power” towards her.

The former speaker, who was at the centre of heated rows during the divisive Brexit votes, denies the allegations of bullying and in a statement today said the investigation was a “travesty of justice”.

But the IEP sub-panel, chaired by Sir Stephen Irwin, said: “The findings of the parliamentary commissioner for standards, which we have upheld, show that the respondent has been a serial bully.

“Like many bullies, he had those whom he favoured and those whom he made victims. 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.

“His behaviour fell very far below that which the public has a right to expect from any member of parliament.”

It added: “The ICGS [Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme] bullying and harassment policy was breached repeatedly and extensively by the most senior member of the House of Commons.

“In all, 21 separate allegations were proved and have been upheld. The house may feel that his conduct brought the high office of speaker into disrepute.

“This was behaviour which had no place in any workplace. Members of staff in the house should not be expected to have to tolerate it as part of everyday life.”

In a further statement today, Mr Bercow 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 dismally.

Former Commons speaker John Bercow in parliament, 29 March 2019

“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.

“Don’t fall for the establishment spin that I have been banned for life. I can still attend debates with the help of a friendly pass-holder or go as a member of the public.”

The former speaker added: “All I can say is that the case against me would have been thrown out by any court in the land, since it is based on the flimsiest of evidence, rooted in hearsay and baseless rumour, and advanced by old-school dogmatists once intent on resisting change at all costs and now settling some ancient scores with me.

“Add to that a dash of personal spite and you have some idea of the vengeful vendetta mounted against me. It is a travesty of justice and brings shame on the House of Commons.”

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, said bullying had “flourished unchallenged” under John Bercow.

“No remorse, no contrition, and willing to sacrifice the first independent process that investigates complaints, simply to save his own reputation,” he said in reference to Mr Bercow.

Downing Street added that it hopes the finding that Mr Bercow was guilty of bullying staff will encourage others at Westminster who suffer harassment to come forward.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister has spoken before about the fact that there is no place for bullying or harassment in parliament, and MPs should always be held to the highest standards.

“We hope that today’s decision gives all those in Westminster the confidence to come forward and report their cases, and that they will be fairly heard.”

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