Former Commons Speaker, John Bercow, defects from 'xenophobic' Tories to Labour

Former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has joined the Labour Party.
Former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has joined the Labour Party.

Bercow: 'This government needs to be replaced'

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John Bercow, the former Conservative MP who became the scourge of Brexiteers as Commons Speaker, says he has switched allegiances to join the Labour Party.

Mr Bercow said he regards the Tories under Boris Johnson as “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic”.

Having stepped down as Speaker in 2019, he announced on Saturday that he joined Labour in recent weeks.

“I am motivated by support for equality, social justice and internationalism. That is the Labour brand,” he told the Observer.

“The conclusion I have reached is that this Government needs to be replaced. The reality is that the Labour Party is the only vehicle that can achieve that objective. There is no other credible option.”

Former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow on College Green in Westminster.
Former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow on College Green in Westminster.

The one-time Conservative MP for Buckingham, with a high-profile Labour-supporting wife, made a catalogue of unconventional comments during his decade in the Speaker’s chair from 2009.

He survived attempts to remove him from the chair, including from former colleagues in the Tory party, revelations about his expenses and allegations of bullying – which he denied.

It is perhaps his interventions in the Brexit crisis, and the relish with which he seemed to make them, that people may remember most.

Regular Parliament watchers may recall his inimitable style, such as his bellowing shouts of “order” and “division, clear the lobby” – quirks that brought him international attention when the eyes of the world became fixed on the Commons throughout 2019.

As the Brexit debate raged and senior opposition figures played every trick in the parliamentary book to prevent the governments of Theresa May and Boris Johnson from pursuing their preferred policies, Mr Bercow drew the ire of hardline Eurosceptics for perceived bias.

He voted Remain, discussing it candidly with a group of students, but in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica denied this meant he had lost his impartiality.

John Bercow was accused of calling former Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom a "stupid woman."
John Bercow was accused of calling former Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom a "stupid woman."

“If I’m biased, I’m biased in favour of Parliament. Parliament being heard. Parliament having a right to speak. Parliament having time. Parliament being respected by the government of the day and indeed by the opposition,” he said.

After being elected as the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons in June 2009, he delivered many caustic put-downs, earning him both loathing and appreciative laughter from MPs.

He had a fractious relationship with former Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom after he was accused of calling her a “stupid woman”.

In his last few years as Speaker, he faced scrutiny of his expenses.

In November 2015, it was revealed he had spent almost £20,000 of taxpayers’ money to fly to a conference in Japan with an aide.

In February 2020, Mr Bercow was strongly rebuked by the House of Commons authorities for naming members of staff without their permission in his autobiography.

In a highly unusual move, a spokesman for the House said it was “unacceptable” for Mr Bercow to publicly identify current and former staff – particularly for “the purpose of financial gain or commercial success”.

A spokesman for Mr Bercow strongly defended his actions, saying he was entitled to address “unfounded” allegations made by a small but “highly vocal” group of people who were trying to “blacken his name”.