Speaker John Bercow should stay in post despite bullying allegations made against him because Brexit “trumps bad behaviour”, Dame Margaret Beckett has said.
An investigation by High Court judge Dame Laura Cox QC that found a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” had allowed the mistreatment of staff in the House of Commons to thrive.
Bercow has also faced claims – which he denies – that he bullied two former officials.
Some Labour MPs look set to back Bercow, who voted remain, because they believe he will guarantee parliament gets a meaningful final say on the deal Theresa May strikes with Brussels.
But, in a day of drama on Tuesday in the Commons, the speaker faced a number of calls to resign, including from Tory MP Maria Miller, the highly-respected chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.
And Dame Laura said it would be “extremely difficult” for the “current senior House administration”, including the speaker, to affect change.
Now Dame Margaret has said Labour should overlook Bercow’s alleged behaviour to secure a meaningful vote for MPs on Brexit.
She told BBC Radio Five Live: “It seems to me that we would potentially add to the number of disasters we have inflicted upon ourselves of late were we to choose, or the speaker were to choose, to go at this time.
“And I would say to him to keep his powder dry for now because we are going to embark on this huge constitutional experiment in which there may be a key role for the speaker.”
Asked if that meant Labour would tolerate bullying, she added: “Abuse is terrible, it should be stopped, behaviour should change anyway, whether the speaker goes or not.
“But yes, if it comes to the constitutional future of this country, the most difficult decision we have made, not since the war but possibly, certainly in all our lifetimes, hundreds of years, yes it trumps bad behaviour.”
Dame Margaret echoed the words of Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who had earlier told Sky News that “that this is absolutely not the time to be changing speaker”.
She said: “We don’t know, for example, with regard to Brexit, what is going to happen: whether there is going to be, technically, an amendable motion or not. Whether it will be the Speaker’s discretion as to whether it is. We do need to have all hands to the deck at the moment.”
The BBC reported today that Bercow will not quit and will stick to his previously reported plan to leave office next June.
Not all Labour MPs agree that Bercow should stay in post.
Kevin Barron, the outgoing Labour chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, joined other Labour and Tory MPs to demand Bercow resign.
A spokesman for Theresa May said it was “up to the House leadership to respond fully and properly” to the Cox report.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, meanwhile, rejected suggestions that Bercow should not be toppled because he was needed to ensure parliament had a proper say in the Brexit process.
She told the Commons the Deputy Speakers were “perfectly good at taking the chair” and “also stand up for backbenchers and what’s right for our country”.