John Bercow delivered a Speaker’s Statement this afternoon in which he announced that he would resign from his role on October 31st, giving this parliament an opportunity to select the next Speaker of the Commons.
Bercow told MPs: “At the 2017 election, I promised my wife and children that it would be my last. This is a pledge that I intend to keep. If the House votes tonight for an early general election, my tenure as Speaker and MP will end when this parliament ends.
“If the House does not so vote, I have concluded that the last disruptive and most democratic course of action would be for me to stand down at the close of business on Thursday October 31st.
“This has been the greatest privilege and honour of my professional life”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 9, 2019
“Least disruptive because that date will fall shortly after the votes on the Queen’s Speech expected on 21st and 22nd October. The week or so after that may be quite lively and it would be best to have an experienced figure in the chair for that short period.
“Most democratic because it will mean that a ballot is held when all members have some knowledge of the candidates. This is far preferable to a contest at the beginning of a parliament when new MPs will not be similarly informed and may find themselves vulnerable to undue institutional influence.
“We would not want anyone to be whipped senseless, would we? Throughout my time as Speaker, I have sought to increase the relative authority of this legislature, for which I will make absolutely no apology to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
“To deploy a perhaps dangerous phrase, I have also sought to be the backbenchers’ backstop. I could not do so without the support of a small but superb team in Speaker’s House, the wider House staff, my Buckingham constituents and above all my wife Sally and our three children, Oliver, Freddie and Jemima. From the bottom of my heart, I thank them all profusely.
“I could also not have served without the repeated support of this House and its members past and present. This is a wonderful place, filled with overwhelmingly by people who are motivated by their notion of the national interest, by their perception of the public good, and by their duty – not as delegates, but as representatives, to do what they believe is right for our country. We degrade this parliament at our peril.
“I have served an MP for 22 years and for the last ten as Speaker. This has been… the greatest privilege and honour of my professional life, for which I will be eternally grateful. I wish my successor in the chair the very best fortune in standing up for the rights of members and right honourable members individually and for parliament institutionally as the Speaker of the House of Commons. Thank you.”
In response, Jeremy Corbyn said: “I want to put on record my thanks to you as being a superb Speaker of this House, my thanks to you as a colleague in parliament and my thanks to your family for the way in which they’ve supported you through often very difficult times when many of the media have been very unfair on you.
“And your two sons are getting good at football. I did some kicks with them in the Speaker’s Court the other day. I was very impressed actually; they’re coming on well. And I know you support the same club as me.
“Mr Speaker, in your role as Speaker you’ve totally changed the way in which the job has been done. You’ve reached out to people across the whole country, you’ve visited schools, you’ve visited factories, you’ve visited offices. You’ve talked to people about the role of parliament and democracy.
“And I’ve never forgotten you coming to sit in in Islington College in my constituency, and spending the morning with me talking to a group of students, all of whom had learning difficulties, and we discussed with them the roles of democracy and parliament.
The Labour leader added: “As somebody who aspires to hold executive office, I like the idea of a powerful parliament holding the executive to account. It’s something I’ve spent the last 35 years doing myself…
“Enjoy the last short period in your office, but it’s going to be one of the most dramatic there has been. I think your choice of timing and date is… incomparable, and will be recorded in the history books. On behalf of the Labour Party, I thank you for your work in promoting democracy and this House.”
Bercow replied: “I think that as backbenchers in our respective parties, we did have quite a lot in common. Certainly speaking for myself as a backbencher, and frequently as an opposition frontbencher, I found that I had a relationship with my whips characterised by trust and understanding… I didn’t trust them and they didn’t understand me.”
“This Parliament… this democracy is stronger for your being the Speaker”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 9, 2019