John Bercow's journey from the back benches to the speaker's chair

Speaker of the House John Bercow gestures as he speaks after tellers announced the results of the vote Brexit deal.
Speaker of the House John Bercow gestures as he speaks after tellers announced the results of the vote Brexit deal. Copyright REUTERS/File Photo
By Reuters
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The speaker has been a divisive figure in the House of Commons


Since John Bercow became speaker in June 2009 he has often been a thorn in the government's side.

Last week, Bercow bent parliamentary rules to give lawmakers the chance to challenge government policy, most recently to pass a law seeking to block a no-deal exit from the European Union.

The grandson of Jewish immigrants from Romania, Bercow went to school in north London and was a keen tennis player. He is still an avid fan and regularly mentions his admiration of Switzerland’s Roger Federer during debates.

Read more: Watch: The best of Bercow setting the record straight in the Brexit debate

Bercow studied government at the University of Essex, and as a young Conservative activist was a member of the right-wing Monday Club. He has since been quoted as saying his membership of the group was “utter madness”.

His move to a far more socially liberal position even prompted a rumour that he was going to defect to the Labour Party. His wife, Sally, a former Conservative member, now supports Labour.

He has said that he voted “Remain” in the 2016 referendum on EU membership.


Bercow has gained a reputation as a reformer and moderniser.

He abandoned the traditional speaker’s robes, knee breeches and tights in favor of a simple gown over a business suit, and has ended the requirement for Commons clerks to wear wigs, saying it would “convey to the public a marginally less stuffy and forbidding image of this Chamber at work”.

He has also overseen a change in the sitting hours of parliament to make them more family-friendly, turned one of parliament’s many bars into a nursery for the children of lawmakers and staff, and even invited lawmakers to bring their young babies into the chamber during votes.

Bercow has made it his business to assert the power of parliament, reviving the little-used “Urgent Question” procedure, which allows lawmakers to request that a minister come to answer questions on an important issue.

“On more than 570 occasions over the last nine-and-a-half years, I have seen fit to grant urgent questions ... so that the government can be legitimately questioned, probed, scrutinized, challenged and held to account,” he said on Monday.

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