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Politics

Former U.K. Speaker calls Brexit ‘biggest foreign policy mistake’ in post-war period

‘I’ve done my best’: John Bercow reflects on years as speaker in U.K.’s Parliament

The former Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow, has long been known as a supporter of the U.K.’s place within the European Union, but on Wednesday, he left Brexit-watchers with little doubt as to his opinion.

“I don’t have to remain impartial now,” said Bercow just 48 hours after standing down as Speaker.

READ MORE: Final ‘ORR-DUHH’ — Meme-able U.K. Commons speaker John Bercow steps down

“If you ask me honestly, do I think that Brexit is good for our global standing, the honest answer is no, I don’t. I think that Brexit is the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period. That is my honest view.”

The former speaker — known for his verbosity, his sharp tongue and for screaming “Order!” at noisy MPs — was addressing the Foreign Press Association in London in his first speech since retiring from a role he held for a decade.

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He painted a gloomy picture for those already sick and tired of the Brexit process.

“With total certainty, I say to you, we will be debating [Brexit] for at least the next five years, very probably the next 10 and quite conceivably the next 15.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson likens opponent to Stalin as election campaign officially begins

In an interview with Global News after the event, he defended his record as Speaker.

“I’ve done my best. I obviously think I can do the job, otherwise I wouldn’t have stood for it and then stood and stood and stood,” he said.

UK Speaker John Bercow delivers emotional statement on final day in role
UK Speaker John Bercow delivers emotional statement on final day in role

“And presumably, my colleagues thought I could do so because I was elected and re-elected a total of four times. I served for longer and was elected more frequently than any other Speaker in the post-war period. And there wasn’t a division of the House when I was re-elected so that suggests that the House was content with me.”

Bercow was first elected as a Conservative MP in 1997 before leaving the party to become Speaker in 2009.

Brexit criticism

Brexit-supporting MPs — mostly from the Conservative Party — have criticized Bercow for allegedly trying to block Brexit by choosing amendments that suited those who support the U.K. remaining in the European Union.

Bercow maintains his decisions in the Speaker’s chair have been consistent and allowed Brexit supporters to pursue their agenda in the years before the 2016 Brexit referendum.

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“I think it’s fairly obvious that I’m resilient and I try, I genuinely have tried to heed constructive criticism and to stop doing things that I was doing that I shouldn’t do and to start doing things that I wasn’t doing that I should do,” Bercow told Global News.

John Bercow effigy lit on fire ahead of Bonfire Night in U.K.
John Bercow effigy lit on fire ahead of Bonfire Night in U.K.

“But where criticism has been, by way of being ad hominem (personal) abuse or just hailing from people who are just anti-me, well, they’re entitled to their views, but I’m not going to let it influence me.”

Since the 2016 referendum, the level of anger directed at MPs on all sides of the debate, including Bercow, has been a concern for many inside the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, Bercow’s successor, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said “tolerance and respect within the chamber” has to be rebuilt.

READ MORE: British lawmakers elect Lindsay Hoyle as new speaker after John Bercow’s retirement

Bercow, a self-confessed “tennis obsessive” says he looks forward to stepping away from politics and playing and watching more of the sport.

At the Foreign Press Association event, Bercow checked where each journalist was from and name-dropped a famous tennis player from that country.

However, the Roger Federer superfan admitted to not being up to speed on Canada’s U.S. Open winner, Bianca Andreescu.

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New Speaker of the U.K. House of Commons elected
New Speaker of the U.K. House of Commons elected

“I haven’t followed her closely. She’s a very fine player. She’s a very fine player,” he said.

“But I haven’t focused a lot on her as yet, but it’s only a matter of time. I want to watch more tennis.”

Bercow also says he’s publishing a book in 2020 — don’t be surprised if the word “order” is in the title.