15:27, September 12 140 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-12 15:27:04
Bercow warns PM not to defy law on no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson must obey the law and seek an extension to article 50 if parliament cannot come to any agreement about Brexit, the outgoing Commons Speaker has urged.

Addressing an audience of lawyers, John Bercow suggested the political chaos generated in the aftermath of the EU referendum meant the UK should move towards having a codified constitution.

Defying the Benn/Letwin act preventing a no-deal would be breaching the rule of law, he said, in a direct challenge to government threats to ignore the legislation.

“You should no more refuse to request an extension of article 50 than you could possibly excuse robbing a bank on the basis that money stolen would be donated to a charitable cause,” Bercow said.

“The only form of Brexit which we will have, whatever that may be, will be a Brexit that the House of Commons has explicitly endorsed.”

Referring to the Article 50 Extension Act, the Speaker said: “Not obeying the law is a non-starter. Surely in 2019 in modern Britain in a parliamentary democracy, our parliamentarians, legislators, cannot ... be conducting a debate as to whether adherence to the law is required.”

Bercow’s speech was delivered in Middle Temple, central London, standing beneath its vast Elizabethan hammebeam roof and a portrait of Charles I, the historical personification of abusive executive authority.

His lecture, entitled Process of Discovery: What Brexit has taught us (so far) about Parliament, Politics and the UK Constitution, was organised by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.

The Speaker welcomed the fact that the Commons has become increasingly assertive of its own powers in the past decade and more capable of subjecting the government to active scrutiny.

On constitutional reform, Bercow said the “Brexit maelstrom” had exposed weaknesses in the country’s political arrangements.

“I have been a sceptic in the past about the desirability of a written constitution for the UK,” he revealed but added: “I have come to the conclusion that it’s worth establishing a royal commission or a Speaker’s conference to explore [the options].”

It should aim to ensure, he said, that the authority of the House of Commons is “never distorted by executive malpractices or fiat … We must consider whether a written constitution is what we need”.

Before Bercow announced his imminent resignation, Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, announced that the Conservative party would break with tradition and field a candidate against him at the next election.

Bercow, 56, is the MP for Buckingham and the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Commons since the second world war.