John Bercow ends decade as Commons speaker with furious spat with Tory MP

'To the fag end of your tenure in that chair, you are defending the indefensible', Andrew Bridgen tells outgoing speaker during debate over suspension of Labour MP

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 31 October 2019 17:00
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John Bercow and Andrew Bridgen in furious House of Commons row

John Bercow stepped down as the House of Commons speaker on Thursday having spent his last afternoon in the role embroiled in a furious spat with a backbench MP.

Mr Bercow engaged in a bitter and bad-tempered exchange with Tory MP Andrew Bridgen as MPs debated a report recommending the suspension of Labour MP Keith Vaz.

MPs had earlier paid tribute to the outgoing speaker, who stepped down after more than a decade in the chair.

With just hours left in the role, Mr Bercow ended his tenure in a way that has become typical of recent years - by clashing with Tory MPs.

This time the topic was not Brexit but the behaviour of Mr Vaz, who was suspended on Thursday for six months after being found to have "expressed a willingness" to buy cocaine for others.

Mr Bridgen, one of Mr Bercow's most vocal critics, claimed the speaker had ignored complaints about Mr Vaz's conduct.

That triggered a furious response from Mr Bercow, who accused the North West Leicestershire MP of "extreme folly and sheer nastiness" in his approach to the issue and told him that he "obviously thinks [his opinion] is enormously important and interesting, although it may not be enormously important or interesting to anyone else".

Mr Bridgen hit back: "It is clear to me and it will be clear to the public that to the fag end of your tenure in that chair, you are defending the indefensible and your close relationship with the honourable member in question.

"The House can come to its own conclusions, the Standards Committee has come to its own conclusions and, Mr Speaker, the public will come to theirs."

Mr Bercow replied: "He can try to smear me. He will get the square root of nowhere."

It was the type of barbed exchange that has earned Mr Bercow many enemies among Tory MPs.

To other parliamentarians, though, he is a heroic figure who has repeatedly stood up for backbenchers against the government.

During a series of tributes to Mr Bercow earlier in the day, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, said: "Your agenda was reform, renewal and revitalisation and although I think the word modernisation is an expletive that I rarely allow to sound forth from my lips, there can be no denying that during your decade in office you have worked tirelessly to achieve these objectives."

He added: "As you have dispensed your immediate duties from the chair, you have come to be known as the backbenchers' champion. Our main purpose as members of parliament is to seek redress of grievance for our constituents and you have been unswervingly diligent in your desire to ensure that all parliamentarians are treated equally, whether novice or hardened veteran."

Valerie Vaz, Labour's shadow leader of the Commons, said: "You opened up parliament...As part of the golden triangle of accountability with the executive and the judiciary, parliament is not the subservient partner but, under your speakership, the equal and relevant partner."

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