UK Politics

Dear Mr Speaker...

Bercow letter Image copyright Me

The week before the first meaningful vote, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, sparked a row in Parliament.

He was accused of breaking with convention on 9 January, after allowing a last-minute change to the rules of the Brexit debate.

Mr Bercow allowed MPs to approve a proposal from Remain-supporting Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, which ensured that if the government's deal was voted down, ministers would have to come back to Parliament to outline a plan of action within three days.

The move paved the way for Mr Grieve to secure more powers for MPs to direct the government on Brexit negotiations.

MPs were swift to praise or censor Mr Bercow, depending on their views on Brexit and whether they believed he'd defied parliamentary rules.

But what did the public think?

The BBC has obtained a sample of what filled Mr Bercow's postbag between 10 and 16 January via Freedom of Information laws.

The morning after

At 9am the next morning, a concerned member of the public told Mr Bercow in an email:

Within an hour, another email arrived, praising the Speaker's "considerable courage, tact, good humour and intelligence" from the day before. It added:

This was in reference to a point raised by Conservative MP Adam Holloway in the Commons, who had accused the Speaker of having a "Bollocks to Brexit" sticker on his car.

Mr Bercow had immediately retorted that the sticker belonged to his wife, adding: "I am sure the honourable gentleman would not suggest for one moment that a wife is somehow the property or chattel of her husband."

Someone who was less impressed by his response to sticker-gate concluded:

Within the hour, more descriptions of the Speaker arrived, ranging from "a shining light of reason and sanity amid the madness of Brexit" to a "self-obsessed, over-privileged self-important and overpaid individual with a little man complex".

Brexit in the inbox

In the week following the controversy in Parliament, Mr Bercow received 1,586 letters or emails addressed to him in his role as the Speaker.

The Speaker's office says it has noticed a "sharp increase in correspondence since December, and particularly around the time of the meaningful vote in January", adding: "This is probably because more people are interested in Parliament as a result of the Brexit debates the closer we get to the March 29 deadline for leaving the EU."

The BBC received a sample of just over 100 emails, almost all of which were about Brexit.

Parliamentary poetry

They varied in length, from the pithy one-liners ("You absolute tool!!") to 500-word essays, including a poem sent on 11 January, under the subject line: Something to read out in Parliament if you have time.

It goes:

Brexit is the history that you have been waiting to write,

For in your hands is the power to unify,

And if you always stay true to the end and work together as one,

You will achieve what the people voted for

Mr Bercow did not recite the verse in the House.

And the Speaker has received some constructive advice on how to start his day. On the morning of 13 January, one well-wisher said:

One hour later, a less supportive member of the public wrote:

Best behaviour

Other contributors directed their complaints at other MPs.

One asked for the name of a particular MP who is often picked up by the Commons microphones and:

Another tried to advise on how to improve the working of the House:

This refers to a line a few metres inside the chamber, behind which MPs often watch debates, particularly if there is no space on the green benches.

Resign or reform?

There were multiple calls for Mr Bercow to resign. When he first took the job in 2009, he said his intention was to stand down by June 2018.

But this date came and went and he is now understood to be planning to leave this summer. One writer threatened action if he did not resign:

Mr Bercow has been praised for his attempts to modernise the House of Commons. But not everyone agrees:

There were some balanced emails, reflecting the complexity of the issues of the day. One member of the public got in touch to praise Mr Bercow:

But they went on to express their concern about his "bias towards MPs supporting the UK remaining in the EU".

The decision to accommodate Dominic Grieve's plans on 9 January was the focus of a large number of the letters.

Another was unsure what all the "fuss" was, adding:

A spokesperson for Mr Bercow added: "The emails contain a range of different opinions, but the overwhelming majority have been positive."

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