John Bercow was dragged into a furious row with a long-term nemesis on his last day as speaker of the House Commons as he was accused of “defending the indefensible” at the “fag end” of his tenure.
The speaker was blasted by Andrew Bridgen as MPs debated a report to suspend Labour’s Keith Vaz, who was this week found to have “expressed willingness” to purchase cocaine for others by parliament’s standards committee.
The lengthy back and forth, in which Bercow seemed to be accused of acting too slowly over the allegations against Vaz, the speaker told Bridgen that “smears” will get him “the square root of nowhere”.
In their final exchange, Bridgen told the Commons: “It’s clear to me and it will be clear to the public that to the fag end of your tenure in that chair you are defending the indefensible and your very close relationship with (Vaz) – the house can come to its own conclusions, the standards committee has come to its own conclusions and, Mr Speaker, the public will come to theirs.”
Bercow said he was sure the public would come to their own conclusions, adding: “He can try to smear me, he will get the square root of nowhere.”
The speaker added he was “friendly” with Vaz, as well as Conservative former ministers, before naming other MPs from different parties.
Bercow said Bridgen had appeared to contradict himself within minutes, adding: “I’m not trying to defend the conduct of (Mr Vaz).
“What I’m doing on behalf of and in support of this House is defending colleagues, members of the public, the integrity of an independent process.
“If (Mr Bridgen) can’t or won’t grasp that fact, with the very greatest of respect to him or such respect as I can muster, that says more about him than it does about me.”
A replacement for Bercow will be elected in due course – with favourites including his deputy Sir Lindsay Hoyle and former minister Harriet Harman.
The 56-year-old entered parliament in 1997 and held several shadow ministerial positions before taking the Speaker’s chair on June 22 2009, promising to serve “no more than nine years in total”.
He abandoned that commitment ahead of the 2017 snap election, but allegations of bullying by former members of his staff, denied by the Speaker, led to fresh calls for him to quit.