Getting to grips with . . .

The John Bercow bullying claims examined

Controversial former speaker banned from Parliament for life after being found guilty by independent inquiry

John Bercow has been slapped with a lifetime ban on holding a parliamentary pass after an independent panel found him to be a “serial bully” and “serial liar”.

The two-year investigation upheld 21 of 35 claims of bullying brought against the former Speaker for the House of Commons by three staff. In the wake of the verdict, Bercow has also have been “administratively suspended” from the Labour Party pending an internal investigation, according to the PA news agency

Recommending that Bercow be banned from the parliamentary estate, the inquiry panel, chaired by a former appeals court judge, described his conduct as “so serious that had he still been a member of Parliament, we would have determined that he should be expelled by resolution of the House”. 

Bercow denounced the inquiry as a “travesty of justice rooted in prejudice, spite and hearsay”. The lifetime ban reports were “establishment spin”, said the ex-speaker, who claimed that “he could circumvent any ban by being let in by a ‘friendly passholder’”, The Guardian reported.

What were the bullying claims?

The allegations were made by Robert Rogers, formerly the most senior clerk in the Commons, Angus Sinclair, who served as Bercow’s private secretary, and Kate Emms, another former private secretary.

The bullying claims were initially investigated by Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards. Her findings have now been endorsed by the independent expert panel to which Bercow appealed. 

As the Commons speaker, a role which Bercow held for over a decade, he made “a number of high-profile stands against the government’s use of Brexit legislation, allowing a number of unorthodox challenges by MPs”, said The Guardian.  But his final years as speaker were “dogged by allegations of bullying, including swearing at officials and throwing his mobile phone”.

Parliamentary standards watchdog Stone found that Bercow had displayed “threatening conduct” towards staff, including verbal abuse and other displays of anger. 

A report by Stone said that he had “shouted at and mimicked” staff and was responsible for “intimidating, insulting behaviour involving an abuse of power”.

The complainants kept “detailed records” of the abuse, said The Guardian.

Stone upheld claims by former Commons clerk Rogers, now Lord Lisvane, that he had been subjected to “repeated unfounded criticism” that was “often made at length and at volume and included derogatory inferences about [his] upbringing and background”. 

The allegations by former private secretary Sinclair included a claim that Bercow threw a mobile phone at him during one outburst, and called him “fucking stupid” for answering a press inquiry on members’ pay.

And Emms claimed that Bercow had belittled and mimicked her in public, in repeated personal attacks that reduced her to tears. 

She said that he was “irascible and disproportionately rude and threatening in his body language” during an outburst at an airport ahead of a work trip to Kenya. According to The Times, Bercow “then shouted at her, before failing to speak to her on the flight”.

The inquiry verdict

In a newly published report, the independent inquiry panel concluded that the Commons bullying and harassment policy had been “breached repeatedly and extensively by the most senior member of the House of Commons”, in “an abuse of power”.  

“The House may feel that his conduct brought the high office of Speaker into disrepute. This was behaviour which had no place in any workplace,” said the three-member panel, chaired by retired Appeal Court Judge Stephen Irwin.

Dismissing Bercow’s appeal against the findings of Stone’s investigation, the panel said that he had been “widely unreliable and repeatedly dishonest in his evidence”, and “attempted to defeat these complaints by false accusations of collusion and by advancing lies”.

In a statement released this morning, Bercow dismissed the independent inquiry and its findings as “amateurish”.

“This inquiry, which lasted a ghastly 22 months at great cost to the taxpayer, has failed it dismally,” he said. “At the end of it, the panel has simply said that I should be denied a parliamentary pass which I have never applied for and do not want. That is the absurdity of its position.”

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