John Bercow insists he is 'empathetic' as he 'absolutely denies' bullying MPs

8 March 2022, 20:05 | Updated: 8 March 2022, 20:32

By Sophie Barnett

Ex-Commons speaker John Bercow has told LBC he "absolutely denies" claims he bullied his colleagues, insisting he is a "warm, empathetic, principled and passionate person".

Speaking to Iain Dale on LBC, Mr Bercow said he had "fantastic" relations with most of his colleagues after a damning report found he is a "serial bully" who should have been "expelled" if he was still an MP.

The damning conclusions were upheld by an Independent Expert Panel following an investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

It has been recommended he should lose his parliamentary pass - and Labour has reportedly suspended him. Although he was a Tory before becoming speaker, he announced he had joined Sir Keir Starmer's party last year.

Read more: 'Bullying' former speaker John Bercow banned from Parliament for life

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John Bercow has told LBC he "absolutely denies" bullying his colleagues.
John Bercow has told LBC he "absolutely denies" bullying his colleagues. Picture: LBC

Iain grilled Mr Bercow, saying: "I was thinking about how to start this interview, and my colleague Eddie Mair once started an interview with Boris Johnson, saying Mr Johnson you're a nasty piece of work. Now reading this report, and I have read all 89 pages, the evidence is you're a bit of a nasty piece of work.

"I'm not a nasty piece of work at all, I'm a warm, empathetic, principled and passionate person, who had fantastic, I emphasise fantastic relations, with the vast majority of people with whom I worked and interacted throughout my time in Parliament."

He claimed there were a "sprinkling of people" with whom he clashed with, saying: "I absolutely deny that I bullied anybody in any way."

A report into his behaviour said: "It is for historians to judge whether the respondent was a successful reforming Speaker of the House of Commons.

"However, there was no need to act as a bully in order to achieve that aim. A great office can be filled forcefully and effectively without descending to such behaviour.

"The findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards [Kathryn Stone], which we have upheld, show that the respondent has been a serial bully."

It accused Mr Bercow, who was the MP for Buckingham, of being a "serial liar" whose "behaviour fell very far below that which the public has a right to expect" from a Member of Parliament.

His conduct "was so serious that, had he still been a Member of Parliament, we would have determined that he should be expelled by resolution of the House".

The panel rejected appeals by Mr Bercow over bullying against three people – former Commons clerk Lord Lisvane, as well as Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms, who worked as his private secretaries.

Ms Stone had 21 of the allegations, which included one instance of Mr Bercow hurling a phone in anger, from the three complainants against Mr Bercow upheld.

The panel concluded the bullying and harassment policy "was breached repeatedly and extensively by the most senior Member of the House of Commons".

"The House may feel that his conduct brought the high office of Speaker into disrepute," the report said.

"This was behaviour which had no place in any workplace.

"Members of staff in the House should not be expected to have to tolerate it as part of everyday life.

"No person at work, however senior, indeed particularly such a senior figure, should behave in this way. This was an abuse of power."

Mr Bercow told Iain that some of the allegations date back 12 years, adding: "It's one person's word against another."

In an earlier statement, he said: "Parliament is supposed to be the highest court in the land. This inquiry, which lasted a ghastly 22 months at great cost to the taxpayer, has failed it dismally.

"At the end of it, the panel has simply said that I should be denied a parliamentary pass which I have never applied for and do not want. That is the absurdity of its position.

"Don't fall for the establishment spin that I have been banned for life. I can still attend debates with the help of a friendly passholder or go as a member of the public.

"All I can say is that the case against me would have been thrown out by any court in the land since it is based on the flimsiest of evidence, rooted in hearsay and baseless rumour, and advanced by old school dogmatists once intent on resisting change at all costs and now settling some ancient scores with me.

"Add to that a dash of personal spite and you have some idea of the vengeful vendetta mounted against me. It is a travesty of justice and brings shame on the House of Commons.

"This has been a protracted, amateurish and unjust process which would not have survived five minutes' scrutiny in court. To describe what I have experienced as a kangaroo court is grossly insulting to kangaroos.

"None of the investigators is a lawyer and the commissioner overseeing them has no expertise whatsoever in the consideration of alleged bullying.

"Throughout, gossip from absent friends of the complainants has been treated as the absolute truth whilst eyewitnesses who challenged the allegations were described as 'not helpful' and discounted. The commissioner even presumed to make findings on matters about which I was never questioned."