Former U.K. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, a longtime Conservative lawmaker who gained international fame refereeing the country’s bruising political drama over Brexit, said Sunday he has switched allegiances and joined the opposition Labour Party.
Bercow was a Conservative member of Parliament for 12 years until being elected in 2009 to the neutral role of Speaker, responsible for running House of Commons business and interpreting its rules of procedure.
He enraged the Conservative governments of Prime Minister Theresa May and her successor, Boris Johnson, by giving backbench legislators chances to stymie proposed legislation about the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.
He became a hero to opponents of Brexit and a villain to its supporters, and was recognized around the world for his loud ties and even louder calls of “Order!” in the raucous House of Commons.
Bercow also was accused during his career of bullying members of his staff, claims he denied. He stepped down in 2019.
He insisted he was neutral in his handling of Brexit debates, though after leaving office he called the U.K.’s 2016 vote to quit the EU a historic mistake.
Bercow began his political career in the 1980s as a right-wing acolyte of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but has moved to the left over the years.
He angered some on the political right by saying in 2017 that then-President Donald Trump shouldn’t be allowed to address Parliament, an honor given to some of his predecessors, including Barack Obama.
Bercow is a strong critic of Johnson, a champion of Brexit whose rise has coincided with an exodus of pro-EU politicians from the Conservative Party. Bercow told The Observer newspaper that the Conservatives under Boris Johnson had become “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic.”
“The conclusion I have reached is that this government needs to be replaced,” he said. “The reality is that the Labour Party is the only vehicle that can achieve that objective.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland rejected the characterization of the party as xenophobic, and said Bercow’s decision to forgo political neutrality “actually has the effect of diminishing the force of his voice in politics.”