LONDON — John Bercow is not afraid of controversy.
A “sweaty, self-important gnome,” was the temperate verdict on the House of Commons speaker from the Sun, the U.K.’s most-read newspaper, on Thursday morning. “Egotistical preening popinjay … a disgrace to his office,” pronounced an equally mellow Daily Mail.
In the ordinary run of British politics, the speaker (even one as bombastic as Bercow) is not meant to be the story. But Bercow has proved adept at finding the limelight and is unafraid of making enemies among his colleagues — or newspaper editors.
More importantly, this speaker’s willingness to go against parliament’s procedural convention to tip the scales in favor of backbenchers over the executive could have a profound influence over the course of Brexit.
While the speaker’s office represents the highest authority of the House of Commons — the lower but more powerful house of the U.K. parliament — MPs that hold it are, by convention, completely impartial, without a vote and without bias to any party or cause.
Bercow insists he was just doing his job; “not to be cheerleader for the executive branch [of government, but] to stand up for the rights of the House of Commons.”
But when Bercow exercised his right to allow an amendment to be added to a government motion that by convention would not have been granted, he surprised everyone. The move drew furious attacks from Conservative backbenchers and some ministers, over what many of them see as his biased handling of the Brexit process.
The amendment (which passed in the subsequent vote by 308 votes to 297) requires Theresa May,