Northern Ireland

Bercow 'not robustly non-partisan', says Lord Alderdice

John Bercow Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Mr Bercow said he felt it was not "sensible to vacate the chair" at the moment

John Bercow is damaging the position of House of Commons Speaker by "his failure to remain robustly non-partisan", a former Stormont Speaker has said.

The comments come as a number of MPs question Mr Bercow's stewardship.

Lord Alderdice said the current Parliament was "the most divided one in living memory".

He said it required "strengths and sensitivity so as not to allow oneself to become part of the deep division".

Mr Bercow has said he has no plans to stand down as Speaker of the House of Commons, despite speculation that he would retire this summer.

He said he felt it was not "sensible to vacate the chair" at the moment.

Mr Bercow has faced claims of anti-Brexit bias and overruling precedent on "a number of key votes".

On Tuesday, the Speaker said MPs will have their say over whether the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October.

He added that there was "much debate to be had" and it was "unimaginable" that Parliament would be sidelined.

The October deadline was set after parliament repeatedly rejected Theresa May's plans.

Image caption Lord Alderdice said the current Parliament was "the most divided one in living memory"

Lord Alderdice, the former Speaker at Stormont in 1998, has criticised the politician.

"I became very familiar with the challenge of developing and holding together a chamber that was deeply divided," he said.

"Having observed developments over the past couple of years, I believe that John Bercow is damaging the position of the Speaker in the House of Commons by his failure to remain robustly non-partisan."

The former Alliance Party leader said the current House of Commons is "the most divided one in living memory", having been "repeatedly unable to agree any motion on withdrawal or non-withdrawal from the European Union - the key issue of the day".

"It is for the others in the House to speak, vote and manoeuvre for their particular cause," he said.

'Sliding into deeper dysfunctionality'

"The Speaker needs to be seen by the House as a whole to be scrupulously fair to individuals, to minorities and to majorities, and to be committed to holding the House and its processes together.

"This requires particular strengths and sensitivity so as not to allow oneself to become part of the deep division in the country as well as in the Parliament."

Lord Alderdice said that to do otherwise would be "to contribute to the House sliding into even deeper dysfunctionality with consequent damage to the functioning of our democracy".

Mr Bercow has chaired proceedings in the Commons for nearly a decade.

After his first election nearly 10 years ago, Mr Bercow said he intended to serve no more than nine years.

He was re-elected unopposed in 2015 and 2017.

However, he said he has no plans to stand down, despite speculation he would retire this summer, after telling the Guardian newspaper that he would stay in the post while there were "momentous events taking place in Parliament".

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