Following charges of personal abuse, British Commons speaker to depart in 2019

John Bercow, the speaker of the U.K.’s House of Commons, is expected to step down from his position as the presiding officer over the lower chamber of Parliament in the summer of 2019.

Sources say Mr. Bercow is debating how and when to announce his departure, but will make any announcement in front of the Commons.

Bercow, who has served as Speaker since 2009, is believed to have come to the decision to stand down following the release of an independent inquiry describing behavior involving sexual harassment and intimidation pervading Westminster.

Following multiple allegations members of Parliament (MPs) bullied, harassed, and intimidated House of Commons’ staff surfaced on BBC Newsnight, an official inquiry was launched in April to probe the charges.

Led by Dame Laura Cox, a retired High Court judge, the conclusions drawn by the investigation outlined a climate at Westminster in which female staff were subject to aggressive and threatening behavior by both male and female MPs.  Cox characterized some male PM behavior as “abusive.”

In Cox’s 155-page scathing report, it is alleged male MPs frequently inappropriately touched females on the head, leg, buttocks or breasts, and in some instances offered abuse in the form of vulgar language or unneeded or excessive admonishments.

According to testimony, some staffers recounted incidents in which staff were treated as personal servants, staff being threatened with their positions if they refused to comply with orders, and racist language directed at minority staff.

Although Cox’s analysis did not identify specific individuals, it defined House officials including members of the House of Commons Commission, which is chaired by Bercow, and his office.

The probe was inspired by allegations brought forth by two former staffers in Mr. Bercow’s office, both of whom allege Bercow bullied employees.  One former staff member of Bercow’s office, a private secretary, resigned earlier this year.

A second accuser alleged Bercow created an atmosphere of “fear and intimidation” in his office.

Among Cox’s conclusions:  A new method for staff to seek redress should emerge; a standards commissioner should oversee the validity of future complaints; and investigations of MPs for misconduct should be conducted independent from oversight by House members.

In her conclusion, Cox also recommended a complete change in House leadership.

“I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administration,” Cox wrote in her report.

Upon his elevation to the speaker position in 2009, Bercow had pledged not to serve beyond the summer of 2018.

However, following the rise of the Brexit movement and subsequent referendum to extract the U.K. from the EU, Bercow revealed his intent to remain in his role to facilitate an orderly withdrawal from the economic bloc, scheduled in March 2019.

A lifelong Tory, Bercow, who has heatedly denied the charges, represents the parliamentary constituency of Buckingham.  As House speaker, he has no voting rights.

Bercow’s predecessor, Lord Martin of Springburn, resigned as the House’s presiding officer in June 2009 after he was implicated in for misusing allowances permitted members of Parliament.  Martin was the first House speaker to resign in 300 years.

 

[BBC] [The Guardian] [Photo courtesy Getty Images]