John Bercow has received his fair share of fawning eulogies of late, as the House of Commons laments his departure as Speaker. But, unsurprisingly, several MPs are equally happy to see him go. Today was Tory MP Andrew Bridgen’s turn to pass on his farewell – the MP was in Parliament to debate the recent report on Keith Vaz’s suspension. Bridgen began by discussing the report, but rather got under John Bercow’s skin when he turned to the Speaker’s own conduct in the Vaz affair:
‘There have many tributes to you today, and I would wish to add my own. In that if you had acted on the letter I wrote to you in September 2015… where I raised my concerns with you that the actions and activities of [Keith Vaz]… if they came to light, would risk seriously damaging…’
The dig led to Bercow interrupting the speech and launching a remarkable rant, in which he defended his decision not to proceed with complaints about Vaz, saying it was ‘not for the Speaker to perform a second job as a kind of night time Columbo.’ Bercow added a further jibe at Bridgen, saying if wanted to pursue the ‘ignorant delusion’ that the Speaker was responsible for Vaz’s behaviour: ‘frankly, I have to say to colleagues, I can’t help him. I can’t help him.’
Bridgen responded by pointing out that Bercow hadn’t even let him finish his point, and suggested he might have even praised the Speaker. This appeared though to only annoy Bercow more. The Speaker interrupted the MP for a second time when Bridgen expressed his sympathies for Keith Vaz’s constituents in Leicester East, accused him of shoehorning another topic into the debate, and criticised him for launching an ‘ad hominem attack’ on Vaz.
The pair continued to spar, with Bercow becoming increasingly irate at being defied. Eventually the testy interaction ended with a remarkable broadside from Bridgen, who said:
‘To the fag end of your tenure in your chair, you are defending the indefensible, and your very close relationship with the honourable Member in question, the House can come to their own conclusions…’
To which Bercow replied: ‘He can try to smear me, he will get the square root of nowhere.’ For once, Mr S is in agreement: Bercow doesn’t need smearing, his own behaviour speaks for itself.
Watch the full exchange here: