One belief that unites government officials, Cabinet ministers and even the most ardent Brexiteers is that the Speaker, John Bercow, is doing his utmost to frustrate Brexit. The next few weeks will likely see him use the discretion of the Speaker’s office to favour every legislative means to hinder the government. When he was under pressure over his bullying, senior Labour figures openly said the same. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said we “do need to have all hands on deck at the moment… I think this is absolutely not the time to be changing speaker… We don’t know, for example, with regard to Brexit, what is going to happen.” Former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett went further, saying “the constitutional future of this country… trumps bad behaviour”. Effectively giving him carte blanche to do what he liked so long as he was against Brexit.
Parliamentary machinations around the meaningful vote and the process of making legislative progress towards Brexit give Bercow a lot of leeway. Leeway that the government fears will be used against them to facilitate a second referendum. Yet after the referendum he said that would be undemocratic!
This is an extract from a letter he sent to a constituent the month after the referendum:
I appreciate your disappointment with the result — a sentiment shared by many others across the country. The reality of the situation, however, is that the vote to leave the EU exceeded the vote to remain by over one million. It is very difficult to argue with such a clear statement from the British people.
The referendum served to gauge the views of the country, although the Prime Minister has made abundantly clear throughout the whole process that he would view the result as an instruction from the British people. My understanding is that that is also the stance of his potential successors on the Government benches, of the Government as a whole and of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Having asked the public for their verdict, it is now for political leaders to give effect to their will.
Over 33.5 million people cast a vote last week which equates to about 72% of the electorate. Turnout at this level has not been seen since the 1992 General Election —widely seen as the apex in terms of voter turnout in recent years. It is difficult to argue that turnout was too low and that the overall result was not convincing. No matter which side of the argument won, it was inevitable that there would be people left disappointed. That is the nature of debate, elections and referendums. It is fundamentally undemocratic to argue that the process should be re-run because the outcome was not what some people wanted.
He was right.
Download: full letter.