JOHN BERCOW announced his retirement as Commons speaker last night after the Queen gave her assent to ruling out a no-deal Brexit next month.
And in a final jab at Boris Johnson, he announced he would be ready to step down on October 31 — the date on which the prime minister says he will take Britain out of the EU ‘do or die’. Mr Johnson went ahead with shutting parliament for the next five weeks from today, after insisting he would not be stopped from delivering on his Brexit promise.
MPs were late last night expected to reject his call for an October general election. The Tories had intended to defy convention by challenging the speaker in his constituency at the next election, saying he had failed to stay impartial when he enabled MPs to pass an act outlawing a Halloween Brexit.
After the Queen approved the act, Mr Bercow said he made ‘absolutely no apology’ for seeking to ‘increase the authority’ of the Commons. During an emotional resignation speech, watched by wife Sally, he added: ‘I have sought to be the backbenchers’ backstop. We degrade this parliament at our peril.’
The approval of the bill last night left Mr Johnson at risk of going to jail for contempt if he cannot get a deal through the Commons by October 31 and refuses to ask the EU for an extension.
In a private WhatsApp conversation later leaked, some Tory MPs urged him not to write to Brussels to beg for a delay. But No.10 said the PM would not break the law and still aimed to secure a deal.
There were reports that Mr Johnson might attempt to get around the law by sending the letter asking for a delay before swiftly dispatching another one asking Brussels to ignore it.
But former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption said: ‘Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension. To send the letter and then try to neutralise it seems to me, plainly, a breach of the act.’
MPs last night backed an emergency motion requiring the government to publish all documents about no-deal planning. Backed by 311 to 302, the motion also requires the publication of all communications about the suspension of parliament that have been ex-changed by the PM’s aides since July 23.
Mr Johnson has denied the shutdown has anything to do with Brexit — saying he wants to begin a fresh parliament after the upcoming party conferences, putting forward new legislation.
But his critics say he and senior aide Dominic Cummings came up with the idea to limit the amount of time that MPs would have to find a way to thwart a no-deal. Before last night’s vote was taken, Downing Street indicated it may refuse to reveal the communications.
Mr Bercow said he had previously promised his wife and children he would step down at the next election.
He said he would now leave on October 31 unless a snap poll was held sooner — but would be in the chair when MPs return to the Commons for the Queen’s Speech on October 14. He got a standing ovation from opposition MPs but the Tories stayed in their seats.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was a ‘superb’ speaker who had ‘totally changed the way in which the job has been done’. And Brexiteer Tory minister Michael Gove praised his ‘commitment to his principles’. But Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage tweeted ‘good riddance’. Ex-Tory MP Mr Bercow infuriated Leavers when his car was photographed with a ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ sticker — which he blamed on his Labour-supporting wife.
Elected to the job in 2009, he has had to deny claims that he bullies his staff.
Deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle is the favourite to succeed him.
Best bits from the speaker who always spoke his mind…
To Michael Gove
‘I say to the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that, when he turns up at our children’s school as a parent, he is a very well-behaved fellow… Do not gesticulate. Do not rant. Spare us the theatrics. Behave yourself. Be a good boy, young man. Be a good boy.’
To Boris Johnson
‘The former foreign secretary does not seem to be very well versed in the traditions of the House of Commons and debate. He will learn from me… with the very greatest of respect, it is for the right honourable gentleman to know his place, which is in his seat.’
To Labour MP Andy McDonald
‘Mr McDonald, you really are at times a reckless delinquent. Calm yourself, man. I know you get very irate because you feel passionately… Calm yourself, man; take some sort of soothing medicament and you will feel better as a consequence.’
To a junior government minister
‘I am not remotely interested in your pettifogging objection chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position. The position is as I have described it, and quite frankly, young man, you can like it or lump it.’