Row erupts as speaker claims government wants to stop Valentine's Day debate

PUBLISHED: 11:42 08 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:27 08 February 2019

John Bercow in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

John Bercow in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

PA Wire/PA Images

John Bercow sparked stormy Commons exchanges after he claimed the government had attempted to remove plans to debate Brexit on Valentine's Day.

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The speaker said he noted with “dismay” that the draft Commons schedule for next week showed backbench debates rather than an amendable Brexit motion were arranged for February 14.

But Bercow added he was “greatly heartened” that the decision was “reversed” and a Brexit debate will take place on that day.

Tory whips chuntered as Bercow made the remarks while Commons leader Andrea Leadsom added it was “unfortunate” that the speaker had “somewhat muddied the waters”.

Bercow later insisted: “Nobody is going to tell this speaker how to stand up for and persistently champion the rights of parliament.”

Relations between Bercow and Leadsom have become increasingly strained in recent months, with the pair clashing repeatedly over how business has been organised in the chamber - particularly on Brexit.

In her business statement, Leadsom confirmed Theresa May will update MPs next week about Brexit and reinstated the process for the next steps.

She said: “We will bring a revised deal back to this House for a second meaningful vote as soon as we possibly can, and should that not be possible by February 13 then the government will table an amendable motion for debate on February 14.”

Leadsom said May is negotiating a revised deal, adding: “The prime minister will provide an update to this House next week and I will make a further business statement if necessary as a consequence of her statement.”

She also said “key Brexit-related statutory instruments” will be included in the business for the week beginning February 18, which was previously scheduled to be recess until a later decision to cancel it.

Bercow later intervened to tell MPs: “Last night I did receive notice of the draft business for next week and I noted with dismay that the scheduled debate on an amendable motion had been removed, and in fact we were due to have debate on backbench business on Thursday 14.

“I confess I was very alarmed by that.

“Insofar as that has now been reversed and in the statement the leader has announced the debate on an amendable motion will take place, I am greatly heartened by that.”

But Leadsom, following questions from her SNP counterpart Pete Wishart, insisted she had set out “precisely” what was happening in the Commons before noting: “I will do so again.

“I think it’s unfortunate Mr Speaker that you somewhat muddied the waters by un-responding to the business of the House statement.

“I had made it perfectly clear what was the case, and I’m perfectly able to do that for myself.”

Leadsom reiterated that May will update MPs next week, adding: “OK - is that clear? Next week.”

Once the Commons leader had finished her answer, Bercow intervened again to say: “For the avoidance of doubt, I haven’t muddied any waters.

“What I have done is to quote the factual position. Very specifically I have quoted statements from the Treasury bench on January 29, January 31 and February 6.

“I know the leader will be interested in this because she has talked about the importance of treating colleagues with respect, which presumably applies to listening to them when they’re speaking.

“So the position is extremely clear.

“I don’t try to tell how to do her job and I treat her with great courtesy, and will continue to do so.

“Nobody is going to tell this speaker how to stand up for and persistently champion the rights of parliament.

“I have done, I am doing it and I’ll go on doing it and I couldn’t care less who tries to obstruct me.

“That is the fact. That is the reality. That is the mission and responsibility of the speaker of the House of Commons.”

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