UK parliament speaker under fire over bullying claims


LONDON: The Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, John Bercow, was under pressure Friday for allegedly calling a senior minister a “stupid woman”, in the latest bullying claim to hit parliament’s top official.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman said the language reportedly used against Commons leader Andrea Leadsom during a foul-mouthed outburst overheard in the chamber this week was “unacceptable”.

After the story broke in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Bercow’s spokeswoman admitted “some strong and differing views were expressed on all sides” during a discussion about the government’s legislative programme.

But she insisted: “The speaker treats his colleagues with respect.”

Bercow was already facing calls to resign after two of his former private secretaries, Angus Sinclair and Kate Ems, accused him of bullying — allegations he strongly denied.

Downing Street described those claims as “concerning” and her spokeswoman said on Friday of the remarks against Leadsom: “Clearly the prime minister thinks they are unacceptable.”

She said that if an official complaint were made, it should be “properly investigated”.

The claims come just weeks after the Commons established an independent inquiry into the bullying of staff in parliament, amid concerns that victims have nowhere to turn to.

However, this will not look at specific cases, and on Tuesday, the Commons Standards Committee of MPs voted against allowing parliament’s watchdog to investigate the Bercow claims.

Asked if she had confidence in his leadership, May’s spokeswoman said: “The speaker is elected by MPs, so questions of confidence are for parliament.”

The speaker is the highest office in the Commons, who presides over debates with his bellowing cry “Order! Order!” and has the power to decide which MPs speak and when and how debates are held.

Bercow was a member of May’s Conservative party, but gave up his affiliation on his election in June 2009, as the role requires political neutrality.

Many Tories accuse him of favouring the main opposition Labour party, and he clashed repeatedly with former Conservative prime minister David Cameron, whose government sought unsuccessfully to unseat him.

Bercow has proudly championed the role of parliament in holding the government to account, increasing the time available for MPs to challenge ministers, particularly on the issue of Brexit.