Bercow claims PM doesn't treat Commons 'with respect' and calls for Covid inquiry

2 May 2021, 11:20 | Updated: 2 May 2021, 12:11

By Joe Cook

The Prime Minister does not treat the House of Commons and Parliament with respect, John Bercow told Swarbrick on Sunday today on LBC.

Mr Bercow said he found Boris Johnson was "personally amiable" towards him during his time as Commons Speaker but was not respectful of Parliament.

"First of all and most importantly, he sought to shut down Parliament for five weeks in an unprecedentedly long closure and prorogation of the house in the run-up to the Brexit summit. That showed irreverence, disdain, and contempt for Parliament," said Mr Bercow.

Mr Bercow also said the row over who paid Boris Johnson's flat renovations matters because of "the sanctity of truth" and it is "neither here nor there" whether the public are more concerned about other issues.

He dismissed arguments from some sectors, including Downing Street and Conservative MPs, that the issue does not matter as the public are concerned about the vaccine rollout and not Tory sleaze allegations.

In a wide-ranging interview, the controversial speaker, who resigned in 2019, also called for a judge-led inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic.

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Questioned by Tom on his views on the Tory sleaze allegations, as some polls suggest the issue is not cutting through with voters, Mr Bercow said: "The truth matters, Parliament matters, and telling the truth in and to Parliament matters.

"I would go so far as to assert, Tom, that that is the case whether it shows up in the polls now, or is a motivating factor in the elections.

"In other words it is not just a question of current public opinion, it is a question of a verity, a truth, an important principle: the sanctity of truth."

He added: "This argument that says 'Oh well it doesn't matter, because people are more concerned about, and appreciative of, and thankful for, the rollout of the vaccine is, in my view, neither here nor there.

"What really counts is that as a matter of principle people should tell the truth and there shouldn't be a caviller disregard for it.

"It is no point pointing these things out only at a later stage. Wherever there is error, wherever there is untruth, wherever there is falsehood it must be spoken out against with crystal clarity."

Covid inquiry 'cannot be whitewash'

Mr Bercow has put his backing behind calls for a public inquiry into the pandemic and how it has handled by the government, telling LBC he believes this must be judge led.

"It has to be independent - one can't have one of these soft soap, whitewash type inquiries that are setup under the auspices and subject to the control of the prime minister of the day," he explained. "That is absolutely hopeless, it has got to be genuinely independent."

The intervention comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also this week called for a "very wide-ranging" inquiry into lockdown timing, PPE provision and "more hidden impacts of the pandemic".

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The former speaker also said he felt the during the pandemic, "the scrutiny of the coronavirus regulations, that are a very substantial curtailment of personal liberties, was absolutely minimal and in some cases zilch".

"We can't reinvent the past, but looking to the future I think the key thing is that these great curtailments and the denial of the cut and thrust, and the vibrancy, and the spontaneity of Parliamentary exchange, cannot be allowed to become the new normal.

"We have got to get back to a robust, dynamic, interrogative Parliament in which people hold the executive to account."

PM 'showed contempt for Parliament'

During the final few months of his 10 year tenure as speaker of the house, Mr Bercow famously clashed with the PM over the unlawful decision to prorogue Parliament in an attempt to push through the Brexit bill.

Asked by Tom Swarbrick whether he believes Mr Johnson treats the House of Commons and Parliament with respect, he gave a clear "no".

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"First of all and most importantly he sought to shut down Parliament for five weeks in an unprecedentedly long closure and prorogation of the house in the run up tot the Brexit summit.

"That showed irreverence, disdain and contempt for Parliament," he said.