The Speaker of the House of Commons is required to be impartial. But the recent behavior of Speaker John Bercow in accepting an amendment that could change the course of Brexit has been met with accusations of anti-Brexit bias and constitutional wreckage.
On Tuesday evening, a week before members of parliament will vote on whether to go ahead with Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial Withdrawal Agreement, the Commons voted against it in the government by introducing a finance bill which will limit the treasury’s spending power. This could spark a government shutdown, similar to the U.S., should the prime minister continue toward a “no deal” Brexit. Though ostensibly minor, many Brexiteers felt that this was a reckless action capable of causing unnecessary damage to the economy in the event of “no deal.” Certainly, it makes “no deal” less appealing.
But that, of course, was the precise point. That and confiscating the government’s control over Brexit in order to hand it back to parliament. Further proof of this anti-Brexit agenda came on Wednesday after the speaker proactively added an amendment to the motion, against the advice of the clerk. The amendment, proposed by the anti-Brexit former attorney general Dominic Grieve, limits the Prime Minister’s time to come up with an alternative plan should her deal be voted down. Again, this would effectively block a default “no deal” Brexit.
The Prime Minister used to say, quite rightly, that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” But in one fell swoop, Speaker Bercow has undone decades of parliamentary precedent and severely limited the government’s control over Brexit. Did he do so in the interest of Brexit or in the interest of those MPs who want to remain in the EU?