John Bercow warns Boris Johnson against sidelining parliament

John Bercow

John Bercow walks over Westminster Bridge on his last day as speaker of the House of Commons. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA

Former Commons speaker John Bercow has warned Boris Johnson against sidelining parliament by pushing through coronavirus laws without a vote or debate before they are enacted.

Bercow told BBC Radio 4’s World This Weekend: “Parliament has been unavoidably constrained by Covid-19 but it should not now avoidably constrain or hamper itself. Debate, scrutiny and votes are the lifeblood of a pluralist system.

“Without them – and they are tremendously important safeguards – what you have is government by executive fiat and it seems to me that there is a world of difference between the situation six months ago and that which pertains today.”

Bercow went on: “If governments feel that they can bypass or circumvent or stymie the voice of parliament, if they don’t really feel the need to consult the legislature any more, well then they will just do things their own.

“What I say is that the toolkit of Trumpianism – if you will, press conferences, sub-Churchillian scripted soundbites in television addresses to the nation or simply taking to Twitter – is not good enough.

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“It is no substitute for that age-old, tried and tested, invaluable mechanism called accountability to parliament. So ducking, diving, dodging scrutiny, of which there has been some evidence in recent times, cannot continue.”

His remarks came as a former Tory minister warned MPs must share in the “dreadful burden” of decision making on “draconian” coronavirus restrictions.

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Steve Baker is among at least 40 Conservative backbenchers who are pushing the government to give the Commons a chance to debate and vote on Covid-19 rules before they are enacted.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “MPs should be sharing in the dreadful burden of decision in these circumstances and not just retrospectively being asked to approve what the government has done…

“How do people think that liberty dies? It dies like this with government exercising draconian powers, without parliamentary scrutiny in advance, undermining the rule of law by having a shifting blanket of rules that no-one can understand.”

He said there were “plenty” of MPs who would back the amendment, and that he thought it would be selected by the existing speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

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