The Washington Post's British Parliament Speaker John Bercow bellows ‘Orrrrder!’ for the last time says:

(Boris) Johnson, the prime minister, in his farewell this week, said Bercow had “done more than anyone since Stephen Hawking to stretch time in this particular session,” a backhanded compliment to how the speaker changed the pace of debate in the House of Commons.

Question: Assuming Johnson was being literal rather than ironic, I'd like to ask how John Bercow changed the pace of debate in the House of Commons. Did he increase or decrease the pace, and what did he do to accomplish this?

  • 7
    He refused several attempts by successive PMs to bring the same bill for consideration multiple times without change, for which Johnson has criticised him for before. He has also selected specific amendments for voting, which have subsequently been passed into effect and prevented particular avenues of approach for the PM. Again, much criticism from Johnson for that.
    – user16741
    Oct 31, 2019 at 22:59
  • 3
    I don't feel this is enough for an answer. Ironic: his interjections were verbose and grandiloquent. Literal: he freed more backbenchers to challenge the government. Here for example a chart representing data about Urgent Questions: images.theconversation.com/files/291724/original/…
    – Lag
    Nov 1, 2019 at 8:54
  • 3
    @Displayname what precedent are you referring to? Selecting amendments for voting is one of the Speakers official duties, Bercow hadn’t done anything differently there from any of his predecessors.
    – user16741
    Nov 1, 2019 at 22:02
  • 5
    As the speaker has a bit of control over procedural matters in a sense he does control "the pace". As Boris has been a spectacular failure as a PM he is always looking for people to blame for his own failures
    – Vorsprung
    Nov 1, 2019 at 22:47
  • 2
    @Displayname in that case he allowed an amendment to a specific “business motion”, which had never been done before - so yes, he set precedent there, you are correct. However, my earlier reply stands - it’s the Speakers job to select amendments, and he did nothing wrong there despite the governments protestations. He broke no rules of office or parliamentary rules, he simply did something no previous Speaker had done.
    – user16741
    Nov 2, 2019 at 20:04

1 Answer 1


There are three things that Johnson could have been referring to when he alluded to Bercow "stretching time". Firstly, and most likely, he was referring to Bercow's opposition to Johnson's attempt to suspend parliament, which went on to be challenged in the Supreme Court and be declared unlawful. Before beginning the proceedings to suspend parliament, Bercow said that the prorogation was "not a standard or normal Prorogation", and that

It is not typical. It is not standard. It is one of the longest for decades, and it represents, not just in the minds of many colleagues but for huge numbers of people outside an act of Executive fiat.

He also responded to Graham Stuart MP, who called his remarks disorderly, saying that

It is not disorder. I do not require advice on order from you, Mr Stuart. You are a master of disorder, man. [...] I could not give a flying flamingo what your view is.

Although Bercow's opposition to the prorogation was not the cause of it being deemed unlawful, it was certainly widely reported and may have been a factor in the eventual prolonging of the parliamentary session which led to it being the longest (839 days) since the suspension of elections during WWII.

Secondly, the Prime Minister also mentioned in his final remarks to Bercow that he was coming to the end of "what must be the longest retirement since Frank Sinatra's". It was first reported in October 2018 that Bercow would retire in the summer of 2019, however, Bercow later indicated that he would retire at the next scheduled general election, in 2022. Finally, Bercow said in September that he would retire on October 31st, or at the next general election. This could also be the stretching of time that Johnson referred to.

Finally, Bercow's handling of Prime Minister's Questions could have also been what Johnson was referring to. During his tenure as Speaker, Bercow frequently let PMQs drag on for far longer than the scheduled 30 minutes - the Telegraph reports that his final session lasted a record-breaking 71 minutes, and praises the new Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, for wrapping up his first session in the allotted time. They also opine ironically that this was due in part to the lack of Bercow's "interminable lectures about the importance of brevity".

At the end of the last PMQs session he presided over, Bercow himself lent credit to this explanation, with his remarks given before allowing two final questions to be put to Johnson:

The Prime Minister said at the start that I had demonstrated that I was stretching time and I would not want to disappoint him. Two final contributions from colleagues who I know are leaving the House.

Hoyle's rather different approach was also noted in the Chamber immediately after his first PMQs session by Michael Fabricant MP, who remarked that

we went through all the names on the Order Paper for Prime Minister’s questions and a number of other colleagues on both sides got in, and we finished at about 12.31 pm and no one had to suffer abuse from the Chair.

In conclusion, then, Bercow was known for his unique approach to the role and attained vast notoriety as such. In particular, his handling of the unlawful 2019 prorogation attempt cemented him in the minds of some members, especially Conservative MPs, as an unacceptably partisan figure who was unfit for the role. The lengthening of the Parliamentary session that Bercow played at least a small part in, is probably what Johnson was referring to in this instance.

  • 1
    Luckily I was not in the library when reading this, otherwise my laughing out loud would have certainly received a call for Orrrrder! from the librarian. Thank you for this thorough and thoroughly-sourced answer!
    – uhoh
    Mar 9, 2020 at 10:52
  • 1
    ...that for some reason I failed to accept until just now :-)
    – uhoh
    Sep 28, 2020 at 15:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .