The man at the centre of more than three years of fiery Brexit debates in parliament, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has been a controversial figure — much criticised by supporters of Brexit and praised by its opponents.
Bercow, 56, is best known for presiding over debates, bellowing “Order! Order!” at unruly MPs and admonishing lawmakers who displease him.
Ever since the 2016 EU membership referendum, he has been particularly influential in defending the right of parliament to have its say on the tortuous Brexit process.
He branded Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament, which runs from the end of Monday’s debates until October 14, as a “constitutional outrage” designed to “stop parliament debating Brexit”.
Last week he allowed MPs to hold a vote on taking over the parliamentary agenda in order to pass a law aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit.
Earlier this year, Bercow also caused uproar when he blocked the government from holding another vote on the draft divorce deal that had already been rejected by MPs.
‘No longer neutral’
Bercow was first elected as an MP for the centre-right Conservative Party, but his elevation to speaker in 2009 means that he is supposed to be politically neutral.
However, his interventions in Brexit debates have prompted accusations from his former colleagues that he is biased both against the Conservative government and Brexit itself.
Opposition Labour MPs broadly support him.
He has also been accused of presiding over a culture of bullying in the Commons, and did not deny he once referred to a senior female government minister as “stupid”.
Exchanges between MPs and the speaker have become increasingly bad-tempered, with tensions reaching boiling point in January, when — defying precedent and the advice of his clerks — Bercow allowed MPs to amend a government motion on the EU divorce deal.
The effect was to force the then-prime minister Theresa May to return to the Commons quickly to explain herself if the agreement was rejected by MPs — as it was a few days later.
Bercow’s decision sparked an angry row in the chamber, as Conservative MPs and ministers stood up to denounce him to his face.
“Many of us will now have an unshakeable conviction that the referee of our affairs… is no longer neutral,” one said.
Another challenged him over a sticker spotted on the car he drives, saying “Bollocks to Brexit”.
Bercow replied tersely that it belonged to his wife and “she is entitled to her views”, and insisted he was only standing up for the rights of individual lawmakers.
Asked about whether he had ignored the advice of his aides, he said: “If we were guided only by precedent, manifestly nothing in our procedures would ever change.”
Born in 1963 into a modest family, Bercow grew up in London and was a child tennis champion, leading to a lifelong love of the sport, notably Swiss great Roger Federer.
He was always a Conservative, but in his youth held hard-right views that he has now rejected.
He became an MP in 1997 and 12 years later was elected as speaker, becoming the youngest person to hold the role for 100 years.
Before the Brexit clashes came to dominate his tenure, Bercow caused a stir by saying he would not allow US President Donald Trump to address parliament during a planned visit.
Critics pointed out he had afforded Chinese President Xi Jinping the honour.
He also raised eyebrows in 2012 with a curious speech in front of Queen Elizabeth II, labelling her as a “kaleidoscope queen”.
But his supporters say Bercow has sought to modernise parliament, abandoning the speaker’s traditional robes for a simple gown over a suit, and seeking to make it easier for female MPs with new babies.
Critics say he is pompous, and overly fond of the sound of his own voice.
One Conservative MP famously described him as a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”.