John Bercow has been accused of “defending the indefensible” to the “fag end” of his tenure as Speaker during a furious Commons bust-up.
The Speaker became embroiled in the row with long-term nemesis Andrew Bridgen as MPs debated a report to suspend Labour’s Keith Vaz, who was found to have “expressed willingness” to purchase cocaine for others by the Standards Committee.
Mr Bridgen noted he originally made the complaint about Mr Vaz to the Standards Committee before appearing to suggest Mr Bercow should have acted earlier on other allegations connected to the MP for Leicester East.
The Speaker interrupted Mr Bridgen and at length informed him about how these were not matters for the chair to get involved in given the other procedures in place.
But Mr Bridgen said the Speaker had misunderstood his point and in fact he was going to “extol” his decision not to get involved.
In their final exchange, Mr Bridgen told the Commons: “It’s clear to me and it will be clear to the public that to the fag end of your tenure in that chair you are defending the indefensible and your very close relationship with (Mr Vaz) – the House can come to its own conclusions, the Standards Committee has come to its own conclusions and, Mr Speaker, the public will come to theirs.”
Mr Bercow said he was sure the public would come to their own conclusions, adding: “He can try to smear me, he will get the square root of nowhere.”
The Speaker added he was “friendly” with Mr Vaz as well as Conservative former ministers Sir Christopher Chope and Sir David Lidington, before naming other MPs from different parties.
He added: “I am friendly with a great many members having served in this place for 22 years, I do not get involved in matters appertaining to standards, there is a machinery for deliberation on those matters in the form of a parliamentary standards commissioner and a committee.”
“They deal with those matters.”
“What I’m doing on behalf of and in support of this House is defending colleagues, members of the public, the integrity of an independent process.
“If (Mr Bridgen) can’t or won’t grasp that fact, with the very greatest of respect to him or such respect as I can muster, that says more about him than it does about me.”
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg earlier led the tributes to Mr Bercow, also telling MPs: “That is not to deny that there will be a debate about your term of office, as there are debates about the terms of office of other speakers in our history.”
The Commons Leader added he believes the good Mr Bercow has done should be “heralded” on his final day in the chair, also noting: “And that others at a later date will look at some of the criticisms that they may have, but now is not the occasion for that.”
A replacement for Mr Bercow will be elected in due course – with favourites including his deputy Sir Lindsay Hoyle and former minister Harriet Harman.
The 56-year-old entered Parliament in 1997 and held several shadow ministerial positions before taking the Speaker’s chair on June 22 2009, promising to serve “no more than nine years in total”.
He abandoned that commitment ahead of the 2017 snap election, but allegations of bullying by former members of his staff, denied by the Speaker, led to fresh calls for him to quit.
In recent months he has also come under fire for a series of controversial rulings in the chamber which were widely considered to favour Remain supporters.
The contest to replace Mr Bercow will take place via a secret ballot, with a result announced on the same day as voting.