Former Commons speaker John Bercow has been administratively suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation, Sky News understands.
Earlier today, Mr Bercow was found guilty of bullying House of Commons staff by the standards watchdog and banned from holding a pass allowing him access to parliament buildings for life.
It adds that his behaviour “fell very far below that which the public has a right to expect from any member of parliament” and that were he still a sitting MP, it would have been recommended that “he should be expelled by resolution of the House”.
Panel deems Bercow a ‘serial bully’
“As it is, we recommend that he should never be permitted a pass to the parliamentary estate,” the report concludes.
Former Conservative MP Mr Bercow stood down as speaker in 2019 after a decade in the chair and controversially defected to the Labour Party last year.
He has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, previously claiming: “I have never bullied anyone, anywhere at any time in any way.”
Speaking to Sky News following the release of the panel’s findings, Mr Bercow accused the Independent Expert Panel of choosing to use “hyperbolic” language “in pursuit of headlines in a very choc-a-bloc media environment”.
“I accept that they have a right to make a decision, but I am not obliged to accept that its decision is right. It isn’t and I don’t,” the former speaker said.
“As far as I am concerned I have told the truth from the start of the investigation to its finish.”
What are the panel’s main findings?
- There was a ‘marked abuse of power and authority’ by John Bercow
- Mr Bercow’s behaviour was motivated ‘by a rooted and prejudiced hostility’ against the complainants
- The former speaker’s conduct ‘was repeated and sustained’
- Mr Bercow acted as a ‘serial bully’ and ‘serial liar’
- The three complainants ‘were victims’
- Mr Bercow’s behaviour ‘fell very far below that which the public has a right to expect from any Member of Parliament’
- The former speaker ‘should be expelled’ from the Commons if he was still an MP
- Mr Bercow ‘should never be permitted a pass to the Parliamentary estate’
- The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme’s bullying and harassment policy was breached repeatedly and extensively
- There is ‘no doubt’ that victims were telling the truth
Bercow accuses panel of using ‘hyperbolic’ language
Mr Bercow told Sky News “the so-called Independent Expert Panel” ignored “huge swathes of evidence”, adding that “hearsay was preferred over testimonies of people present at the time”.
Asked if he would apologise in the wake of the report, he said: “I don’t believe in faux apologies.”
In a statement released at the same time as the panel’s findings were published, Mr Bercow accused the investigation into allegations he acted improperly towards staff during his time as Commons speaker of being “a protracted, amateurish and unjust process”.
Denouncing the report as “a travesty of justice”, the former speaker added: “This has been a protracted, amateurish and unjust process which would not have survived five minutes’ scrutiny in court.
“To describe what I have experienced as a kangaroo court is grossly insulting to kangaroos. None of the investigators is a lawyer and the commissioner overseeing them has no expertise whatsoever in the consideration of alleged bullying.”
Bercow accused of an ‘abuse of power’
The Independent Expert Panel, which determines sanctions in cases where bullying complaints have been brought against MPs, upheld the findings of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone.
The parliamentary commissioner for standards had upheld 21 allegations against Mr Bercow across the three complainants, relating to the period 2009 to 2014.
The panel rejected appeals by Mr Bercow against allegations he bullied three people – Lord Lisvane, the former Commons clerk, Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms – and accused him of an “abuse of power”.
The Independent Expert Panel concluded that the bullying and harassment policy “was breached repeatedly and extensively by the most senior member of the House of Commons”.
No surprise former speaker has responded with indignation and defiance
The man who presided over Parliament for a decade and lived inside its walls, has now been banned from holding a pass for the institution he loves.
Bullying allegations dogged the latter years of Mr Bercow’s reign, with former staff speaking publicly about their experiences.
A small number of MPs blocked an earlier investigation.
This report, however, finally backs up the testimony of his three victims, and is more damning than many expected. It concludes not just that John Bercow is a ‘serial bully’, but a ‘serial liar’ as well.
The judgment will likely speed up Parliament’s glacial change in culture, making it clear to MPs and peers that bullying is unacceptable and they will be held to account.
Many Brexiteer Conservatives will be delighted by today’s judgment: they believe that during the tortuous parliamentary proceedings after the EU referendum Mr Bercow failed in his primary duty to be impartial.
His decision to join the Labour Party last year (after entering Parliament as a Conservative) and to lambast Boris Johnson in the media cemented those feelings of naked hostility.
Perennially outspoken, it is no surprise the former speaker has responded today with indignation and defiance.
It is, nonetheless, an embarrassing and painful conclusion to a long, and occasionally glittering, political career.
It is hard to see how Mr Bercow can now play any meaningful role in public life.
Bercow first speaker not to be offered peerage in over 200 years
Its report continued: “It is for historians to judge whether the respondent was a successful reforming speaker of the House of Commons.
“However, there was no need to act as a bully in order to achieve that aim. A great office can be filled forcefully and effectively without descending to such behaviour.”
Mr Bercow was the longest-serving speaker since Edward FitzRoy, who served nearly 15 years in post between 1928 and 1943.
He presided over numerous Brexit rows in the Commons and, upon his departure, became the first speaker not to be offered a peerage in over 200 years.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn then nominated Mr Bercow for a peerage, but this was blocked due to the investigation into alleged wrongdoing.
Mr Bercow also accused Ms Stone of hiding behind parliamentary privilege to “duck scrutiny and legal challenge”.
Complainant describes ‘consistently upsetting’ period of her career
In a statement, Ms Stone said: “I am grateful to the Independent Expert Panel for their detailed and considered report regarding the conduct of Mr Bercow.
“Their report upholding my findings demonstrates my ongoing commitment to ensuring that the investigations under my oversight, and my subsequent decisions, are independent, impartial, thorough and fair.”
One of the complainants Ms Emms said she was “supremely glad to be vindicated by the report”.
“The impacts of the one and only genuinely horrible, undermining and consistently upsetting period of my career has spread into all areas of my life,” she said.
“Stress, anxiety and loss of confidence sent me home on sick leave and affected how I saw myself and how I felt I was seen by family, friends and colleagues.”
Downing Street said it hopes the finding that Mr Bercow was guilty of bullying staff will encourage others at Westminster who suffer harassment to come forward.