Friday 15 November, 2019

UK lawmakers electing new speaker to replace John Bercow

In this photo released by the UK Parliament, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow gestures during his final day in the Chair in the House of Commons, in London, October 31, 2019. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via AP)

In this photo released by the UK Parliament, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow gestures during his final day in the Chair in the House of Commons, in London, October 31, 2019. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via AP)

British lawmakers were electing a new House of Commons speaker on Monday to replace the influential but controversial John Bercow.

Bercow retired last week after a decade as speaker that saw him become a central player in Britain's Brexit drama.

Like Bercow, the new speaker will run the daily business of the Commons, keeping lawmakers in line with robust cries of "Order!"

Some politicians, however, want to see a more cautious approach than that taken by Bercow, who prided himself on making the government answer to Parliament. The speaker is supposed to be an impartial arbiter of Parliament's rules, but critics accused Bercow of favouring anti-Brexit politicians at the expense of those supporting Britain's departure from the European Union.

He clashed with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government, and strongly opposed Johnson's attempt to suspend Parliament for five weeks as an October 31 Brexit deadline approached. The UK Supreme Court overturned Johnson's shutdown.

With Parliament divided over the best way ahead, the EU has granted Britain an extension to its impending departure until January 31.

There are seven contenders to succeed Bercow, including his three deputies — Lindsay Hoyle, Rosie Winterton and Eleanor Laing — and long-serving Labour lawmaker Harriet Harman. An eighth, Conservative legislator Shailesh Vara, dropped out of the race Monday morning, saying he did not have the numbers to win.

The candidates will each get five minutes to address legislators before Monday's secret-ballot vote. If no candidate gets majority support, there will be rounds of voting, with the lowest-placed contender dropping out each time, until one candidate does have a majority.

The choice of a new speaker comes a day before Parliament is dissolved for a December 12 national election in which all 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs. Johnson's Conservatives are hoping to win a majority that could unblock Britain's political deadlock and let Johnson fulfill his pledge to take Britain out of the EU.

The opposition left-of-center Labour Party is trying to shift the campaign's focus from Brexit to domestic political issues such as schools, health care and Britain's social inequities.

The centrist Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit, and the single-issue Brexit Party, which favors a no-deal exit from the bloc, are battling for British voters with strong views on whether the UK should quit the 28-nation EU.

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