U.K. Speaker Accused of Bullying by Former Top Lords Official

(Bloomberg) -- John Bercow was accused of bullying by a former top official in the U.K. House of Lords, who said the House of Commons Speaker doesn’t meet the standard of behavior expected in the role.

Bercow’s behavior could be “intimidating,” “unreasonable” and “disproportionate,” David Leakey said Thursday in an interview on BBC television’s “Newsnight” program. He said the speaker was guilty of “intimidation, mimicking people, mocking people,” and that members of Parliament were fearful of criticizing him because he could be “vindictive” and deprive them of opportunities to speak in the chamber.

U.K. Speaker Accused of Bullying by Former Top Lords Official

“People can make a judgment about whether that is acceptable behavior and the standard which we want set in public life by our Parliament and by our speaker in our Parliament,” said Leakey, who held the senior post called “Black Rod” for seven years through to 2018. “My own personal view is that I don’t think it does meet the standard.”

The accusations -- denied by Bercow’s office -- follow a report on the same program on Wednesday that his former secretary was paid more than 86,000 pounds ($117,000) as part of a severance deal that included a non-disclosure agreement.

‘Red Mist’

Bercow’s office told the BBC that “Mr. Speaker refutes all the allegations leveled by Mr. Leakey. John Bercow and David Leakey are two very different people with different backgrounds, perspectives and ideas. They had fundamental disagreements in 2011 and 2012, but interacted adequately after that.”

Since taking up the job in 2009, Bercow has championed the rights of Parliament, encouraging lawmakers to hold the government to account. As a series of key votes on Brexit approach, he has a track record of supporting moves that make life difficult for ministers. In October, he told lawmakers: “There must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying here at Westminster or elsewhere.”

Leakey spoke of one incident when Bercow disagreed with proposals for a seating plan for an event in Parliament, and “the red mist descended and he banged the table and yelled and was highly insulting to me personally.” A former military commander, Leakey said he didn’t feel like a victim, but he could understand how others suffering the same treatment would.

As Black Rod, Leakey was responsible for controlling access to the House of Lords and maintaining order within it. The post is best known for the role played in the State Opening of Parliament, when Black Rod is sent from the Lords to the Commons to summon elected members of Parliament to hear the Queen’s Speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face, and he or she then bangs three times on the door with the rod. The door is then opened and MPs follow Black Rod to the Lords.

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