Wednesday, 9 January 2019

John Bercow's decision endangers the office of Speaker, and our democracy per Anne Perkins in Opinion for The Guardian

'Bercow is not the first Speaker to make a unilateral change to the parliamentary rules. But it would be fair to say it doesn't happen often. Experts who know their history point to the power to shut down debate ("a closure motion") which was introduced by Speaker Brand after Irish MPs stopped all progress on a government bill for five days in a row. That was in 1880, approximately 140 years ago.

But the real point about Bercow's actions is the furious accusations of party bias that it has provoked from his critics. "The political impartiality of the Speaker is a key feature of the office, while the role's authority has developed over time alongside other procedural reforms" intones the Commons guide to the office of Speaker. It's one thing to stand up for backbenchers against a powerful executive. It's quite another to use the office to advance a political cause.

In the end, the judgment will rest on whether the failure of government and parliament as a whole to find any grounds for agreement on Brexit legitimises intervention on one side by the Speaker – or whether instead it marks a wanton disregard for the rule of law. Everyone knows where unchecked law-breaking can lead. The Speaker takes a grave risk when he appears to ignore the rules. At the least, it makes it harder to insist the government observes the rules next time.

Everyone who is fighting to reverse the decision to leave the EU because it is a wanton act of self-harm has a parallel duty, to ensure that it is done in a way that promotes rather than undermines democracy. Brexit is already doing terrible damage, and it's not all on one side. The Speaker should be very careful of doing anything to make it worse.'

Do read the whole Anne Perkins article in The Guardian 

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