The current Lord Speaker of the UK’s Parliament, John Bercow, recently spoke in a forum at London’s Kings Place Politics Festival. He shared many of his views with the public when he addressed the gathering as the member of a discussion panel lead by Steve Richards, a journalist specializing in political news. Participants addressed several questions specifically to the Lord Speaker.
Speaker Bercow defended his decision to veto a request by President Donald Trump of the United States to deliver a speech in front of Parliament. He noted his decision did not rest in politics, asserting that he had not sought to “take sides” on any issue in refusing to permit the recently elected U.S. President to address the United Kingdom’s legislative body.
He vehemently defended his actions, noting Parliament had bestowed veto authority on only three individuals under its rules: the speaker, the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Lord Speaker. As the Lord Speaker, he believes he acted squarely within his prerogative. The rules required him to take a firm position and remain impartial. He added that his decision did not fall within the scope of a free speech violation, and that he was not depriving anyone of a right. No one should compare addressing Parliament with a “bauble” available for use by the “government of the day” he explained.
In Parliament, Lord Speaker Bercow has distinguished himself as a very independent-minded individual. He acknowledged he frequently displeased the administration of Prime Minister Cameron, noting political discussions of ministers during that era often went “against me”. Yet he claims the situation did not cause him any concern whatsoever.
His calm attitude prevailed despite efforts to remove him from his post in 2015 through the combined political action of the Conservative chief whip and the leader of the House of Commons. Michael Gove and William Hague cooperated to obtain his ouster, but did not succeed.
The Lord Speaker contends he holds no ill will over the effort to unseat him, although he does believe the then-leader of the House of Commons ultimately embarrassed himself through his efforts to dislodge Bercow. He also noted in his opinion Michael Gove seemed ill prepared to serve as the chief whip. He reminded the audience the chief whip once missed a vote because he had gotten locked in a bathroom.
Despite the opposition he has inspired in the past, Lord Speaker Bercow praised the present Parliament, which he surmises might sit for the full five years of its elected term (although he noted he wouldn’t want to stake his house on that proposition). He also complimented Prime Minister Theresa May. He said he maintained a good working relationship with her.
Does Lord Speaker Bercow regret denying the U.S. President a chance to speak to UK’s legislators? Not in the least. He seems pleased with his decision.
In President Trump’s case, the Lord Speaker hinted his assertion in February that he would find himself “strongly opposed” to President Trump endeavoring to address the Members of Parliament stemmed from important considerations. Speakers must consider “opposition to racism and sexism”, not politics.