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Has The Speaker of the UK House of Commons Overstepped His Authority?

by John Brian Shannon

According to all known laws, traditions and conventions under which the UK House of Commons operates, the Speaker of the House serves as the Sovereign’s representative to the Commons and the Speaker is to remain 100% neutral on all political matters.

This requirement forms part of the job description and includes times when the Speaker isn’t in Parliament, including all hours of the day and night when he or she is anywhere about the country or the world.

It’s a clear instruction set that all present and previous Speakers are obligated to observe at all times during their term(s) as Speaker of the UK House of Commons.

“Speakers must be politically impartial.” — PARLIAMENT.UK
“Once assembled after a General Election, MPs, led by the Father of the House, go to the House of Lords where they receive a message from the Queen (or King) asking them to elect a Speaker.” — PARLIAMENT.UK
“On the day following his or her election, the Speaker-elect goes to the House of Lords to receive the Queen’s (or King’s) approbation from a Royal Commission.” — PARLIAMENT.UK
“The Speaker of the House of Commons chairs debates in the Commons Chamber and the holder of this office is an MP who has been elected by other MPs.
“The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons and must remain politically impartial at all times. During debates the Speaker keeps order and calls MPs to speak.
“The Speaker also represents the Commons to the Monarch, the Lords and other authorities and chairs the House of Commons Commission.” — PARLIAMENT.UK


What’s All This, Then?

John Bercow, the presently-serving Speaker of the House of Commons has inserted his opinion, viewpoints, and political leanings into the House of Commons narrative (he’s a confessed ‘Remainer’ — which, admitting even that point is against the rules for the Speaker of the House of Commons) and worse, Mr. Bercow has expounded on his political views to mainstream media and to politicians and negotiators from other countries. Tres gauche!






On ‘Majoritarian Dictatorships’ Led by (the supposedly) Impartial Speaker of the House

Harry Yorke of The Telegraph titled his recent piece: John Bercow accused of running a ‘majoritarian dictatorship’

“A senior Tory MP has accused John Bercow of running a “majoritarian dictatorship” in the House of Commons, as he proposed radical reforms to limit the Speaker’s powers. 

Sir Bernard Jenkin, a member of the Commons constitutional affairs committee, has warned that the office of the Speaker has become “irretrievably politicised and radicalised” on Mr Bercow’s watch. 

Hitting back at Mr Bercow, who on Thursday appeared to liken Boris Johnson to a bank robber, Sir Bernard claimed that MPs needed to reform the role to limit the Speaker’s “enormous power.” 

It comes after the Speaker used a speech in London to launch a personal attack on the Prime Minister, warning that Parliament would step in if he tried to bypass a law on seeking a Brexit extension.” — Harry Yorke


Watch UK Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt. Hon. John Bercow as he speaks at the Sixth Annual Bingham Lecture on September 12, 2019 (Begins at 42:00)


The Speaker Asks a Question

“What conceivable moral force do the people’s elected representatives have in seeking to […] disregard a law enacted by Parliament?” (John Bercow, paraphrased)

I hate to break it to the Rt. Hon. Speaker of the House, Mr. John Bercow, but the moral force that he seems in question of is that ‘The Will of The People’ trumps ‘The Will of the House of Commons’ by a significant margin.

In fact, ‘The Will of The People’ trumps Parliamentarians by such a large margin, IMHO, it’s almost as if he’s just arrived from a different universe.

MP’s on either side of the House of Commons are nothing more than the formalized ‘servants of The People’ and the Speaker is nothing more than the formalized ‘servant of the Head of State’ (a.k.a. ‘the Queen’) and whatever dithering goes on in the House of Commons, whatever grandiose verbosity is employed superfluously in the House of Commons, whatever grandstanding goes on in the House of Commons, and whatever arcane debates occur in the House of Commons, ‘The Will of The People’ is far and away more important.

Let me remind him just how badly the UK House of Commons has ‘duffed-up’ the twice-expressed will of the people and the (far less important) will of the House of Commons.

  1. On June 23, 2016 Britons voted to leave the EU in a legally-held and UK government approved referendum.
  2. On February 1, 2017 British MP’s voted to follow the instructions of UK voters, voting 498 to 114 to pass the European Union Bill (voting to leave the EU) by a healthy margin of 384 votes.
  3. On June 8, 2017 the incumbent Conservative Party won a General Election on a pledge to deliver Brexit in an election where all parties ran on a platform of delivering the Brexit that Britons voted for in the 2016 referendum.
  4. On three separate dates Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was voted-down by British MP’s and no other deal has replaced it.
  5. On March 31, 2019 the UK House of Commons failed Britons by failing to deliver Brexit on by the promised date.
  6. On April 12, 2019 the UK House of Commons again failed Britons by failing to deliver Brexit on that promised date.
  7. Subsequent to the third failure of Theresa May’s WA and two missed Brexit deadlines the EU ruled that Brexit would be delayed until October 31, 2019. Pathetic!
  8. On July 23, 2019 former Prime Minister Theresa May lost her position as UK Prime Minister.
  9. On July 24, 2019 Boris Johnson became Prime Minister of the UK with a promise to deliver Brexit.
  10. On September 3, 2019 British MP’s voted to remove the right of the sitting government to choose policy and to offer legislation to the House of Commons for debate and consideration by the House, and give it to themselves — thereby giving themselves the power over how Brexit is to unfold. Unprecedented! Now the Brexit which they all promised their constituents (to get themselves re-elected in June 2017) cannot happen unless it meets one of their three criteria; 1) Unless the House votes to approve a No Deal Brexit, a No Deal Brexit is now illegal, 2) Brexit may only happen if a new Withdrawal Agreement is agreed prior to October 31, 2019 and the UK House of Commons and the EU Parliament approve it before that date, 3) A new Brexit date is set by the EU.

If they can’t agree a deal with the EU over the past 3-years, what makes them think they can get a deal approved by both countries by January 1, 2020? Hello!


Meanwhile, British Citizens Haven’t Done One Thing Wrong in All of This!

All these years later (1176-days, to be exact) Britons continue to wait for the Brexit they voted for, having done not one thing wrong and in the meantime, all the political meanderings, indecision, recriminations, grandstanding, showboating, one-upmanship and other political games played by British MP’s have cost the UK economy approximately £1 billion per month due to economic uncertainty, in addition to the average £10.5 billion annual net overpayment paid to the EU by UK taxpayers since June 2016 together totals an obscene £69.5 billion.

Heads should roll!

But quite unlike other professions, there’s no accountability.

Politicians talk about accountability and indeed, many MP’s do great work for their constituents and those MP’s are much to be admired!

But there are some to whom life is but a stage on which to hold forth and stroke their own egos, and those are the MP’s who’ve blown Brexit (so far) and are directly responsible for the loss of over £69.5 billion (and counting) since June 2016. To them, it’s all just a game, and those are just numbers on a page. Sickening!

There are real consequences for citizens in all this economic uncertainty which was/is caused by endless political dithering, arcane (and unimportant) political debates, and the ridiculous fixation on ‘getting a deal’ with the EU.

The People didn’t vote for or against a deal, they voted to Brexit.

And there is the fiduciary duty of politicians who run on a platform (to deliver Brexit) in a reasonable timeframe. And 3-years is not upholding their responsibilities to their constituents. Not even close.

What matters is MP’s delivering what they’ve promised in a reasonable timeframe. What matters not is the opinions of MP’s about Brexit nor the Speaker’s political musings.

MP’s need to understand that there’s no one else to blame for the obscene (and still accruing) £69.5 billion cost to the UK economy on account of their Brexit dithering.

MP’s need to understand that EU membership was never legal to begin with as (a previous UK Parliament) gave away (some amount of) sovereignty to a foreign country which clearly contradicts the UK’s constitutional framework and therefore the legal term ‘ab initio’ applies, which means that EU membership for the UK was always contrary to the UK’s constitutional documentation and therefore, the membership was never valid in the first place so MP’s should stop obsessing about how the UK could ‘legally’ leave the EU. (‘ab initio’ = as if it never happened)


Summary

According to the UK constitutional framework, the UK couldn’t legally join the EU, therefore, it was never really a member. So, just leave! You weren’t a real member anyway. Stop obsessing!

According to democratic process, leaving aside ‘ab initio’ for a moment — Britons voted for Brexit and British MP’s have a fiduciary duty to their constituents to deliver such service as they’ve been contracted to perform.

According to the economic impact to the country after 3-years of Brexit shenanigans and dithering, the shocking economic losses to the country (which I conservatively calculate at £69.5 billion, so far) should create enough guilt to motivate British MP’s to deliver the Brexit they’ve so often promised.

Remember; A promise is nothing but a lie until the promise is fulfilled.

And those living a lie don’t deserve their seats in the House of Commons and I fervently hope that any MP who worked to frustrate Brexit doesn’t win their seat in the next election, whenever that election may occur. And good riddance to them! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The People have spoken. Everything else is mere commentary.


Related Articles:

  • Tories bid to depose Speaker Bercow after Commons revolt (BBC)
  • Commons Speaker John Bercow to stand down (BBC)
  • Hero or villain? Bercow’s notoriety is a consequence of parliament’s crisis – not its cause — (The Guardian)

The Dichotomy of The Commons

by John Brian Shannon

After trying to pull-off an international Brexit treaty all by herself with only a small cadre of Conservative insiders — and without allowing her colleagues in the UK House of Commons to participate in the process, nor indeed to know much at all about how negotiations with the EU were progressing, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was recently forced by British MP’s and the (excellent) Speaker of the House, John Bercow into fully informing them about her Brexit plans, which has resulted in the political equivalent of a slow-motion car crash.

Yet, Speaker John Bercow’s decision to allow a series of indicative votes in the UK House of Commons as a damage control measure and as a frustration-lowering device may turn out to be the best thing to happen to the House and to British democracy in decades.

Such precedent will allow indicative votes in the future on thorny issues before the government, thereby allowing individual MP’s to pose questions to the House and receive the results in the form of votes For or Against their motion and allows constituents to gauge the voting record of their MP’s.

At the very least, it’s another tool in the toolbox of Parliament with which to conduct The People’s business and to help MP’s, stakeholders in the UK economy, and Britons to understand the will of the House more completely.

Good so far? Yes?

I agree.


Although Clearly Not Theresa May’s First Choice; Indicative Votes May Save Her in the End

Speaker Bercow’s decision to allow indicative votes will over time, funnel MP’s toward becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

I doubt Theresa May sees that MP’s are and always should be (from the PM’s perspective) part of the solution instead of part of the problem. After all, how could she?

She’s been banging on about her cliquish Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration / Joint Instrument for almost the entire 986-days she’s been the Prime Minister and has tended to view colleagues in the same way she views Brexit and everything else in the world; As a series of obstacles to be avoided. (The mindset of a bureaucrat)

She doesn’t seem to realize that playing the bureaucrat isn’t what the job of Prime Minister is all about.


Politics in One Word: IRDIME

Once you move up to the big leagues, bureaucratese must give way to Identification (identifying items that legitimately require the attention of a UK Prime Minister) Research (getting the right policies from the get-go) Dissemination (communicating with colleagues / keeping them in the loop / thereby making them part of the solution instead of part of the problem) Informing (keeping the public informed) and importantly, Math (Do I have the necessary support to get my legislation passed?) which coincides nicely with Electability (Will I stay in power if I get these bills passed?)

Theresa May is in the situation she’s in — because she’s a ‘square peg in a round hole’.

Other bureaucrats who employ bureaucratic tools to accomplish political objectives will end up in the same quagmire that Theresa May now finds herself in — both in the House of Commons and in Brussels. And soon with the public who will blame her for getting the country into the mess it’s now in.

There’s no doubt she means well for the United Kingdom.

And there’s no doubt that (as you would expect from a world-class bureaucrat) she has crafted an excellent, perhaps exceptional Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration / Joint Instrument (except for the hated Irish backstop clause forced on her at the last-minute by unelected EU bureaucrats) and there’s no doubt she intends to make a success of Brexit even if it kills her dream of staying-on as Prime Minister. Admirable.


But a New Process Has Begun, Thanks to Speaker Bercow

During today’s indicative voting, not one proposal received majority approval from MP’s. Which may have surprised some of them who were wanting to hijack the Brexit process or those who wanted to kill it.

This is the back story of the indicative vote process: Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations, or feel they are being ‘kept down’ by the government which causes them to wonder that perhaps the present House of Commons isn’t as ‘democratic’ as it should be; Yet, there have been few examples of purer democracy than in the House of Commons yesterday where members voted on proposals offered by none other than MP’s from every party. An historic day!

And every one of them failed.

IRDIME works at the backbench level in the House of Commons exactly as the stock market works in the economy (the most perfectly balanced system in the universe, except for nature itself) and if an idea has merit people invest in it, and if it doesn’t have merit few invest in it, and if they do, they stand to lose. But feel free to invest or vote how you want!

And they’re now starting to see what Theresa May has been seeing all along; That there isn’t a magic bullet that can solve all of the various Brexit problems.

Which will have the (very odd, but predictable) effect of causing MP’s to respect Theresa May moreso than they’ve done over the past 986-days now that they see the limitations of democracy; How can you get what you want if you don’t know what you want? and; How can you get what you want if you can’t sell it well enough to the other members of the House?

It’s one thing to know what you don’t want, and that’s now been made clear by these time-consuming but necessary indicative votes.

Now, due to Speaker Bercow’s precedent-setting decision all that remains is for MP’s to find out what they do want.

All-in-all, a healthy democratic exercise is underway in the UK Parliament — a process that Theresa May should’ve initiated herself back in 2016 instead of locking MP’s out of the Brexit process for 2-years.

Including MP’s throughout the entire Brexit process could’ve resulted in Brexit done and dusted before June 23, 2018 (within 730-days, or 2-years of the referendum to Leave the EU) and both the UK and the EU would’ve been the better for it.

And there’s no excuse on Earth good enough to cover that failure.


The Obvious Way for the House to Proceed (From a Brexiteer Point-of-View)

  1. Continue with more indicative votes until every side has had their fair say (without undue duplication of proposals)
  2. If no clear winner arises, then straight to voting on the 400-page Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration / Joint Instrument (remove The Backstop) and every MP should vote to pass it with a clear conscience if they’re true democrats representing the will of The People.
  3. The House should then vote that Theresa May present the approved 400-page WA, etc., to Brussels for their kind consideration.
  4. If the EU answers, ‘No’ or if it doesn’t counter-offer — then, straight to a No Deal Brexit — which is what The People voted for in the first place.
  5. But if an EU counter-offer is made, then that must be respectfully considered by the whole House, first by indicative vote, and then by meaningful vote.

The end of this story is that separate from going through this interesting and necessary indicative vote session; The People voted to Leave, they didn’t vote for complicated Withdrawal Agreements, nor did they vote for high falutin’ Political Declarations, nor for weak fixes to the fundamental error in the Withdrawal Agreement (the Backstop) they voted to Leave the EU — and the job of government is to carry out the will of The People — whether individual MP’s like the instructions given by The People or not.

And come Hell or high water, I expect that in the end, that will be done.


Therefore, the Dichotomy of the UK House of Commons is This:

Theresa May tried to blast her secretive Brexit deal past MP’s using Shock and Awe tactics and failed twice (making MP’s part of the problem in her mind) but Speaker Bercow, by allowing a series of indicative votes helped MP’s to recognize that Theresa May’s flawed deal is actually a better deal than the House itself could arrange — and therefore, the Speaker, by treating MP’s with fairness and respect, may thereby help MP’s pass Theresa May’s twice-rejected deal.


This Can’t be Said Loudly Enough…

The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, used the strength of the House (its MP’s, its numbers, its experience, its longstanding systems and procedures, its ability to innovate and set new precedent) which allowed (facilitated?) members of Parliament to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

And that’s what politics and leadership is all about. Well done, John Bercow!