UK House of Commons drama, impartiality of Speaker questioned

A report from Missy in the UK:

More drama in the House of Commons today after PM Questions.

Background: In December Parliament passed a motion on the Meaningful Vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. In this motion it was stated that if the Agreement did not pass the Government had to go back to Parliament within 21 days with a further proposal for leaving the EU. This motion is what is referred to as a forthwith motion. Forthwith is a technical term used, and means that a motion must be put forward for a decision by the Commons without debate or amendment. For this particular motion, whilst it is a forthwith motion it was agreed by the Commons that no amendment could be made to it by any member except a Minister of the Crown. Essentially this motion can only be amended by a Minister and not a backbench or opposition MP.

Today Conservative MP, (and former Attorney General), Dominic Grieve put forward an amendment to this motion changing the 21 days to 3 days. This was signed by MPs from across the House. The clerks advised the Speaker that this amendment was not selectable, and should not be selected for vote. The speaker had previously told another MP that amendments could not be tabled to a forthwith motion. However, despite it being precedent that the speaker takes the advice of the clerks and despite this being an amendment to a forthwith motion, the speaker selected it and tabled the motion.

For over an hour Government MPs raised Point of Order after Point of Order regarding Parliamentary precedent, and the Speaker not taking the advice of the clerks. The Speaker was asked several times what the advice of the clerks was, he refused to say (a journalist was told by a source in the clerks office which is where the information came from that they had advised against it).

The speaker admitted that he had not taken into account Parliamentary precedent, or given any thought to the implications of his decision, he was only interested in the here and now. The implications, however, could be serious in the future. He has set a precedent where the Speaker can change the rules of the debate whenever he likes, and he has also sent the message that precedent doesn’t matter in Parliament, despite it being one of the fundamental Parliamentary Conventions which is part of the uncodified British Constitution.

A bit on the Speaker himself. Last year allegations arose of the Speaker bullying staff in the Commons, and that he had been doing it for any number of years. Some in the Commons called on him to resign. Labour MPs, and some Conservative MPs who support Remain, resisted attempts to force the Speaker out, noting he has openly stated he voted Remain and does not support Brexit.

This has been raised again today as some wonder if the Speaker allowing Dominic Grieve’s amendment to be tabled is his way of paying back those MPs that have kept him in his position, I am not sure that is quite right, but over the last year or so his impartiality on matters pertaining to Brexit has been called into question.


Leave a comment


  1. Missy

     /  10th January 2019

  2. Gezza

     /  10th January 2019

    There is obviously a major flaw in having one’s Constitution being subject to unwritten conventions which is resulting in the UK’s system of government being thrown into acrimonious total disarray.

    This show how much more superior a completely codified Constitution such as that of the United States of America is to more loose constitutional arrangements reliant on trust & goodwill of politicians with integrity.

    No. Wait …

  3. David

     /  10th January 2019

    Bercow may just have caused another election to be held, I think if May loses her vote on her loser deal then her only way out aside from bringing it back for repeated votes every 3 days is to call an election and during the period crash out of the EU then either return to the house and win a confidence motion or go through crashing out and having an election at the same time.
    While Bercow is an appalling speaker the blame for all this needs to be laid at May,s feet, she has lied, been a terrible negotiator and the only preparations she has done for Brexit is to have her civil service enact “project fear, the sequal”. If May had gone into negotiations with strength while preparing properly for Brexit she would have got a much better deal and the UK would be looking ahead to a bright future.

    • Missy

       /  10th January 2019

      Not sure on whether he will be the cause of another election. From what I have been hearing the amendment is not as bad as it seems, it just gives May less time to get back to Parliament, but to be fair she should already know what she will say as she has already postponed the vote, and if she hadn’t done that she would have to be back to Parliament at roughly the same day as what she will now, (it is now 3 sitting days not 21 sitting days).

      She doesn’t have to go back with another deal, just with what she will do about the fact that the deal was voted down. From my understanding that means she can go back with a statement that she will go back to Brussels to try and re-negotiate certain aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement.

      Other options are:
      1. hold a second referendum
      2. say that she will ask the EU to extend the Article 50 period by 3-6 months, though this will cause the UK to have MEP elections in May
      3. rescind Article 50
      4. give a date for a new vote on the Withdrawal Agreement – basically try the EU’s tactic of making them vote until they give the right answer
      5. resign (though I doubt that)
      6. last resort, another general election, though I can’t see that happening.

  4. Duker

     /  10th January 2019

    Wouldnt it be the case that deputy speakers etc are bound by Precedent, but the Speaker is not.
    You couldnt set precedents if you were bound by the previous ones. Its just a storm in a teacup.

    • Missy

       /  10th January 2019

      The speaker can change precedent around parliamentary process via a debate, however, in this case Erskine May, the book of Parliamentary Practice, clearly states that a Forthwith Motion is unamendable. Not only did the Speaker go against the legal advice of the clerks in allowing Grieve’s amendment, but he did not inform the house he would now be allowing amendments, and all of this after another MP had been told he couldn’t table an amendment. He did all this without even considering what the long term constitutional implications would be.

      This is not a storm in a teacup, the implications are long ranging and have sown the seeds of a constitutional crisis for the UK.

      More information is coming out tonight, Bercow was twice told that this amendment was not allowed under Parliamentary Standing Orders, he was reportedly livid, insulted the clerks and overruled them. He has history of bullying behaviour. Ironically when the Conservative whip challenged him on tabling the amendment saying it would damage Parliament Bercow was reportedly overheard saying that he would not be bullied by Conservative whips.

      This is a man that is not interested in what is good for the country, nor what is in the best interest of the UK Parliament, nor in upholding constitutional conventions, he is only interested in furthering his own political agenda. The damage he has done to the integrity of Parliamentary process and the office of the Speaker will last long after he has gone.

  5. Jeeves ponzi

     /  10th January 2019

    Rule Britannia ,Britannia waives the rules._.


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