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Last Orderrrrs: John Bercow's tenure as Speaker comes to an end today - here's why he's been such a controversial figure

Here a look back at the career of one of Westminster’s most divisive politicians.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

SPEAKER JOHN BERCOW is leaving his House of Commons role today. Controversial, colourful and the scourge of ‘chuntering’ MPs, Bercow has been one of the breakout stars of Brexit. 

His cry of “Order” has become something of a catchphrase and turned him into a star of social media, while there have been countless semi-viral moments in recent years: like (of all things) this mashup of Bercow saying the name of Conservative MP “Mr Peter Bone” set to the tune of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. 

And while today Bercow will no doubt receive plaudits and praise for his work over the last 10 years, the man himself is controversial and far from universally liked. 

There have been multiple allegations that Bercow, a former Conservative MP, physically intimidated and bullied House of Commons staff. 

He’s also been accused by critics of bending parliamentary procedure to his will, invoking the fury of Tory MPs in particular. 

Today, he will chair his final day in the House of Commons – making him one of the longest-serving speakers of the modern era. 

Here’s a look back at some of the most important moments of his decade-long tenure. 

Empowering backbenchers

Bercow, an MP for Buckingham, was elected in 2009. He promised to be “completely impartial” and said he wanted to be the “backbenchers’ Speaker”. 

By the latter measure, he seems to have succeeded. The number of urgent questions – which allows opposition MPs to ask pressing questions of government ministers – has shot up during his time as Speaker, while Bercow created a reputation as a chairman willing to chide and interrupt even the most senior members of the House of Commons. 

 Brexit

Regarded as a colourful figure ever since he took office, Bercow has become known beyond the world of Westminster since Brexit began to unfold. 

In the polarised atmosphere of the House of Commons, Bercow found himself accused of being a Remainer sympathiser and being biased in favour of Labour, even having to defend a “Bollocks to Brexit” sticker on his wife Sally’s car. 

His decision in January to allow an amendment forcing Theresa May to present a new Brexit plan to MPs within three days if her deal was voted down – which promoted anger in the government – empowered those same critics. 

But the real drama came as Bercow was accused of upsetting hundreds of years of parliamentary precedent in March by ruling out a third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal unless there was a substantial change to the agreement – prompting accusations that he had plunged the UK into a “constitutional crisis”. 

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It was a decision that changed the course of Brexit and one that still seems to smart among Tory MPs today. But it did little to discourage the Speaker. 

Only this month, Bercow denied Boris Johnson a second vote on his Brexit deal after the prime minister was defeated on ‘Super Saturday’, telling MPs that another vote would be “repetitive and disorderly”. 

Prorogation 

While he was unable to stop the government proroguing parliament, Bercow made clear his displeasure at the decision to suspend the session – which many saw as an attempt to prevent elected representatives scutinising Johnson’s Brexit plans.

“This is not a normal prorogation. It is not typical. It is not standard. It is one of the longest for decades,” he said. 

“It represents an act of executive fiat,” he added. 

After the Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation was unlawful, Bercow was among the first to respond. 

“As the embodiment of our parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons must convene without delay. To this end, I will now consult the party leaders as a matter of urgency,” he said. 

Controversial

There have been multiple bullying accusations against Bercow, all of which he has denied. With bullying and harassment in parliament seen as a major issue, Bercow came under scrutiny.

One report, by Dame Laura Cox, found that many senior parliamentary staff, included Bercow, should consider standing down in response to the culture of abuse. 

However, in May 2018 the Commons standards committee blocked an investigation into allegations against Bercow. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

He was also criticised for his expenses claims, which included a claim for a chauffeur-driven car journey from the House of Commons to Carlton House Terrace – a journey of 1.12 kilometres. 

Who replaces him?

In September, Bercow announced that he would be leaving the role. “At the 2017 election I promised my wife and children that it would be my last. This is a pledge that I intend to keep,” he said. 

His decision to set his departure date as 31 October – Brexit day – raised eyebrows but with the UK’s departure date now extended most of the spotlight should remain on Bercow today. 

Back in 2011, he promised to “disappear” after leaving the role. Whether that does happen remains to be seen, but his replacement should be elected soon.

Current favourites include Labour’s Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Bercow’s deputy, as well as former deputy prime minister, Labour’s Harriet Harman.

There is some speculation that the election could take place Monday, ahead of parliament being dissolved – but that remains to be confirmed. If that does go ahead, it leaves the new Speaker little time to settle in before MPs leave to campaign ahead of polling day on 12 December.

If you don’t want to miss your final chance to see Bercow as Speaker, you can tune into the live stream of the House of Commons – he should be in the chair for most of the day. 

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