UK Politics

Who is Commons Speaker John Bercow?

John Bercow in the House of Commons Image copyright PA

Commons Speaker John Bercow is at the centre of a political row over Brexit after he ruled out MPs voting on Theresa May's deal again unless the government asks a different question.

Mr Bercow has been accused of over-stepping the mark, with one former minister suggesting he was the "last person left in Britain who is genuinely accountable to nobody".

But he has defended his actions, saying he was upholding precedents dating back more than 400 years and protecting the reputation of Parliament.

During his nine years in the Speaker's chair he has clashed with prime ministers, survived attempts to oust him and spoken out against the US president.

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Media captionSpeaker John Bercow rejects further Brexit votes without changes to motion

He's also been praised for making it easier for MPs to grill ministers - boosting the power of backbenchers to hold the government to account - and has relaxed the dress code in the House of Commons.

The 56-year old former Conservative MP, who has been under pressure after a report into bullying and harassment in the Commons, is understood to have told friends he plans to step down this summer.

Here are some key things to know about the MP for Buckingham.

Tennis talent

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Image caption John Bercow with his wife Sally at Wimbledon

The minicab driver's son first picked up a racquet at the age of eight. He became Middlesex under-12s champion, but later suffered bronchial asthma and was a casual player only thereafter.

He became a member of the Commons tennis team, forming a doubles partnership with future Prime Minister David Cameron.

He even wrote a book on his top 20 male tennis players, his favourite being Switzerland's Roger Federer.

He sometimes plugs his favourite sport in the House of Commons, and is a regular in the Royal Box at Wimbledon.

Political journey

It was as a schoolboy in Finchley, then the constituency of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, that Mr Bercow became involved in politics. He joined the right-wing Monday Club, but later left, describing the views of some members as "unpalatable".

At Essex University Mr Bercow became chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, an organisation closed down in 1986 by Conservative Party chairman Norman Tebbit because of its radical stances and sometimes raucous behaviour.

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Media captionThe government is defeated over a bid to change the way a future Speaker is elected to the House of Commons

Mr Bercow was elected Conservative MP for Buckingham in 1997. But in the early 2000s his political views altered. He became a champion of gay rights and said a clampdown on cannabis smokers would be "absurd".

After entering the shadow cabinet, he called for Conservative MPs to be banned from membership of the Monday Club.

Having established himself as one of the Conservative Party's most outspoken social liberals, he had to fend off persistent rumours he was poised to defect to Labour.

And his election as Speaker was more popular on the Labour benches than the Conservative ones.

In 2015, with Labour's support, he survived after a proposed rule change that was seen as an attempt to oust him by the Tory government.

Commons traditions

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Media captionJohn Bercow: Wearing ties not compulsory

Mr Bercow has said he wants to make the House of Commons look "marginally less stuffy and forbidding".

This has included allowing male MPs to speak in the Chamber without wearing ties, and ending the requirement for Commons clerks - the advisers who sit in front of him - to wear wigs.

This didn't go down too well with some MPs, who said this could undermine Parliament's standing, and ignored tradition.

After becoming Speaker in 2009, he updated his own attire by wearing a business suit, rather than the knee breeches and tights worn by his predecessors.

Keeping order

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Media captionOrder! Order! Speaker shows he runs PMQs

As Speaker, Mr Bercow is in charge of chairing debates and keeping order in the House of Commons. He regularly bemoans the rowdy atmosphere in the Chamber, and isn't shy in interrupting people in full flow to tell MPs to calm down.

He has been praised for ensuring that backbench MPs get a proper chance to question ministers - and has also had run-ins with several politicians, some of whom think he is a little too fond of his own voice.

Perhaps the most notorious dispute was with Conservative MP Sir Simon Burns, who in 2010 called him a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf".

Mr Bercow also regularly interrupted former Prime Minister David Cameron - his old tennis partner - and has turned on other ministers, including one who used his phone in the chamber.

Last year he sparked a debate by speaking out against US President Donald Trump addressing Parliament, saying "opposition to racism and sexism" were "hugely important considerations".

This sparked a backlash from from some Conservatives, who accused him of straying beyond his politically-neutral brief.

He also faced claims of bias over Brexit, after he told students in 2017 that he had voted to stay in the EU.

He has dismissed claims he had displayed an anti-Brexit sticker in his car, insisting it belonged to his wife Sally and she was "entitled to her views" as she was "not the chattel of her husband".

Bullying allegations

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Media captionJohn Bercow is asked in the Commons about bullying allegations against him

Earlier this year the Speaker faced allegations of bullying, which he denies.

In May, his former private secretary Angus Sinclair told BBC Newsnight the Speaker shouted and swore at him, and attempted to physically intimidate him.

Another former senior official, David Leakey, said Mr Bercow created a climate of "fear and intimidation".

At the time his spokesman said there was "no substance" to Mr Sinclair's allegations and that while he had had "fundamental disagreements" with Mr Leakey they had "interacted adequately after that".

Asked about the allegations in the Commons, Mr Bercow responded: "I have a superb team of dedicated, effective and long-serving staff, five of whom have served me for a collective total of over 40 years.

"I am also happy to confirm that the great majority of people who have left my service have done so on perfectly amicable terms."