John Bercow delivers impassioned speech to say he will resign as Commons Speaker on Brexit day

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Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. Parliament TV/via REUTERS/File Photo
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. Parliament TV/via REUTERS/File Photo

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Commons Speaker John Bercow has announced that he will stand down as an MP at the next general election.

Addressing the Commons while his wife looked on from the gallery, Mr Bercow said: “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. If the House votes tonight for an early general election, my tenure as Speaker and MP will end when this Parliament ends.

“If the House does not so vote, I have concluded that the least disruptive and most democratic course of action would be for me to stand down at the close of business on Thursday, October 31.”

Labour MP Darren Jones has described John Bercow as “a champion of parliamentary sovereignty” after the Commons Speaker announced he was to stand down as an MP at the next general election.

“John Bercow has been a champion of parliamentary sovereignty and a champion for backbenchers like me being able to hold the executive to account,” Mr Jones tweeted. “He’ll be missed by many of us in the @HouseofCommons. The next Speaker has big shoes to fill.”

Mr Bercow continued: “Least disruptive because that date will fall shortly after the votes on the Queen’s speech expected on October 21 and 22.

“The week or so after that may be quite lively, and it would be best to have an experienced figure in the chair for that short period.

“Most democratic because it will mean that a ballot is held when all members have some knowledge of the candidates.

“This is far preferable to a contest at the beginning of a parliament when new MPs will not be similarly informed and may find themselves vulnerable to undue institutional influence.”

The Speaker John Bercow added that he has “sought to be the backbenchers’ backstop”, and thanked his team in the Speaker’s House for their work behind the scenes.

Mr Bercow said: “I could not serve this House without a small but superb team in the Speaker’s House, my wife Sally and my three children Oliver, Freddie and Jemima.”

He added: “From the bottom of my heart, I thank them all profusely.”

Mr Bercow’s wife Sally Bercow could be seen smiling on from the gallery.

There were gasps and cheers from the opposition benches as Mr Bercow addressed the Commons.

Mr Bercow added: “We would not want anyone to be whipped senseless, would we?

“Throughout my time as Speaker, I have sought to increase the relative authority of this legislature for which I will make absolutely no apology.”

Mr Bercow added that he could not have served as Speaker without the support of MPs.

He said: “I could also not have served without the support of this House and its members, past and present.”

Mr Bercow added: “This is a wonderful place filled overwhelmingly by people who are motivated by their notion of the national interest, by their perception of the public good and by their duty, not as delegates, but as representatives, to do what they believe is right for our country.”

He continued: “We degrade this Parliament at our peril.”

Mr Bercow concluded: “This has been, let me put it explicitly, the greatest privilege and honour of my professional life for which I will be eternally grateful.

“I wish my successor in the chair the very best fortune in standing up for the rights of honourable and right honourable members individually and for Parliament institutionally as the Speaker of the House of Commons.”

Mr Bercow’s speech was greeted with sustained applause from MPs in the chamber. Opposition MPs rose to their feet as did some former Tory MPs, notably those opposing a no-deal Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised Mr Bercow for being a “superb” Speaker.

He told the Commons: “In your role as Speaker you have totally changed the way in which the job has been done. You’ve reached out to people across the whole country.”

Mr Corbyn added: “This Parliament is stronger for your being Speaker. Our democracy is the stronger for your being the Speaker. And whatever you do when you finally step down from Parliament, you do so with the thanks of a very large number of people.”

Mr Corbyn offered his thanks on behalf of the Labour Party, noting: “Enjoy the last short period in your office but it’s going to be one of the most dramatic there has been.

“I think your choice of timing and dates is incomparable and will be recorded in the history books of parliamentary democracy.”

Labour MP Clive Lewis described Mr Bercow as “one of the genuinely great reforming Speakers of this House” on Twitter.

“@jeremycorbyn giving a heartfelt vote of thanks on behalf of all @UKLabour MPs regarding the Speakers announcement he’ll retire on Oct 31st: ‘Thankyou for your work promoting democracy in this House.’” he wrote.

“One of of the genuinely great reforming Speakers of this House.”

For the Government, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said it was clear Mr Bercow loved the House of Commons and democracy, adding: “Your commitment to your principles and to your constituents is unwavering and an example to others.”

Mr Gove joked he hoped Mr Bercow would not take it personally when he votes for an early general election, adding: “It is the case that however controversial the role of the backstop may be in other areas, your role as the backbenchers’ backstop has certainly been one that’s been appreciated by individuals across this House.”

He added he has “never been in any doubt” about Mr Bercow’s desire to operate on the basis that the executive must be answerable to the Commons in the same way as the House is answerable to the people.

Mr Gove went on: “You have done everything in your power in order to ensure not just the continued but the underlined relevance of this place.

“Your love of democracy is transparent in everything that you say and do.

“I want to, on behalf of myself as an individual and on the behalf of the Conservative Party, to say thank you.”

Labour backbencher Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) said Mr Bercow will be remembered as “one of the great reforming speakers of the House of Commons”.

Mr Benn said: “I wouldn’t want for a minute to challenge your decision, not least because you would rule me out of order, but I have to say that I regret and respect it.

“And I say that for this reason. That when the history books come to be written, you will be described as one of the great reforming speakers of the House of Commons and the reason is that you have indeed been the backbenchers’ friend and supporter.”

He added: “There has been occasion when some in the House have taken umbrage with decisions that you have reached, but you have stood by your beliefs and your principles and there are many, many members of this House who are eternally grateful to you for having stood up for our rights.

“To enable us to debate and then to vote on something. The fact that the Speaker decides that something should be debated is not that the Speaker is saying the House should agree, it is the Speaker saying that we should be able to cast our vote.”

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