John Bercow is a Conservative – although, for much of the time, it’s hard to tell what planet he’s on, let alone whose side.
As Speaker of the House of Commons he is supposed to be impartial but he seems to find it hard to maintain this stance, with his own party bearing the brunt of his displeasure more often than not.
Today has been a prime example. The government had scheduled a debate over the European Arrest Warrant but there was confusion over whether a vote would take place.
It had been promised by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.
But the matter had been complicated when some MPs tried to turn it into an issue about the European Union, rather than justice.
The motion today followed a decision last year to opt out of 133 EU police and criminal justice measures, including the European Arrest Warrant – and was expected to be about rejoining 35 of those measures, including the EAW.
But at the start of the debate, Mr Bercow had to tell MPs that the vote would be on only 10 of the regulations. It seems the government was hoping to slip the EAW through ‘by proxy’. Perhaps the hope was that this would avoid a possible schism in the Conservative Party over the EU.
Former Tory – now UKIP – MP Douglas Carswell tweeted his opinion of this behaviour: “Devious and underhand tactics by govt whips have reduced Commons to a farce.”
The BBC has reported that Mr Bercow said he had expected a vote on the warrant, condemned the situation as a “sorry saga” and added that “the House should not be put in that position”.
He said: “A commitment is a commitment to be honoured, rather than trying to slip things through [by] some sort of artifice.
He said the public expected “straightforward dealing and they are frankly contemptuous… of what is not straightforward dealing”.
That discussion took place between 4.30 and 5pm and at the time of writing – 7.30pm – MPs remain undecided about what they are debating.
You see, it gets worse. After the Speaker savaged the situation, InJustice Secretary Chris Grayling got up and said the vote would be on all 35 measures the government wants to bring back in – directly contradicting Mr Bercow. That got shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper up on her hind legs to deliver the damning verdict: “What a shambles; what complete chaos.”
It is another example of the low regard Conservative ministers have for Parliamentary procedure and the rule of law.
If they want to push a measure through, then they will descend to any depth in order to achieve it. In this case, it seems they wanted to avoid giving Eurosceptic Tories a chance to rebel against the government, so the Chief Whip (Michael Gove), the Justice Secretary (Chris Grayling) and the Home Secretary (Theresa May) seem to have cooked up a fudge, with a vote on only 10 measures but the decision expected to count on the EAW as well.
That is “not straightforward dealing”. It is “trying to slip things through [by] some sort of artifice”.
It is not statesmanlike.
It certainly isn’t honest.
It is the behaviour of people who clearly do not deserve to be ministers in the UK government.
But then, the Coalition has made a mockery of Parliament ever since May 2010.
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