Speaker John Bercow accused of ‘sexist’ and ‘aggressive’ language towards female minister

Claire Perry claims Mr Bercow had been 'quite irascible' when asking her to give more brief answers to questions from MPs

House of Commons speaker John Bercow
House of Commons speaker John Bercow

John Bercow, the Commons speaker, has been accused by a minister of “sexist” and “overly aggressive” language towards her in the latest of concerning allegations levelled against him.

Claire Perry, the energy minister, said she had written to Mr Bercow regarding a clash between the pair in the Commons and that she feared he had a “woman problem”.

She claimed Mr Bercow had been “quite irascible” when asking her to give more brief answers to questions from MPs during a debate in parliament on Tuesday.

Her decision to go public with the complaint follows a high-profile row involving the speaker last month after he was accused of referring to Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, as a “stupid woman”.

Mr Bercow is also under investigation after a number of accusations that he has behaved inappropriately towards colleagues and employees, but he has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

In her letter to the speaker, published in The Sun, Ms Perry said: “Personally, over the years I have grown used to your occasional irascible outburst directed at me when I am at the dispatch box.

“However, during BEIS oral questions today, you used a tone and language to admonish me for giving overlong answers that seemed both overly and aggressive and particularly sexist.

“Your comments about me being ‘dilated’ have especially caused comment – of course you may have misspoken, hence my attempt to lighten the mood with a reference to the last time I was dilated, but this only provoked a further outburst of anger.

She continued: “I am not alone in these concerns, indeed I have been approached by more than a dozen members of the House today, both men and women, government and opposition, who have expressed surprise and dismay at what they perceived to be your demeaning remarks and behaviour towards me.”

Ms Perry added that given Mr Bercow’s remarks towards Ms Leadsom last month, she feared a “pattern emerging” where he is “finding it increasingly hard to interact respectfully with female MPs on the government benches”.

“At a time when we are dealing with an endemic problem of bullying and violence – both physical and verbal – against women in the UK and elsewhere, it is not acceptable to have a presiding officer of our precious House of Commons who appears to have a ‘woman problem’,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the speaker’s office: “During question time yesterday, the speaker was trying to move business along ahead of the much anticipated debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. He simply urged the minister to give a ‘brief answer ... no dilation’ – in other words, he was asking Ms Perry not to speak at length. It is a term he has used many times before.”

In a letter to Ms Perry, the speaker added: “While respectfully – I do not accept the points made, perhaps it would be nice to meet for a ‘clear the air’ cup of tea as soon as possible?”

Shortly before the publication of Ms Perry’s letter, the Commons serjeant at arms said Mr Bercow had been the victim of a “witch-hunt” by disgruntled former staff seeking to discredit him.

Kamal El-Hajji said current Commons staff were united in their belief that the accusations were part of a “witch-hunt”, including what he called “article after article in the daily newspapers containing speculation and accusations regarding the speaker’s code of conduct and the allegedly ‘unprofessional’ way that he treats staff and colleagues working in parliament”.

He wrote in The House magazine: “Due to a considerable lack of evidence supporting these allegations, it seems clear to me that there is a witch-hunt against him, whether it is coming from previously disgruntled staff members or ex-colleagues trying to settle old scores of some kind.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in