House of Commons Speaker John Bercow holds all the Brexit cards
He blocks another vote on deal in Parliament
LONDON As British Prime Minister Theresa May grapples with Parliament to get her way on Brexit, one man stands at the centre of it all with the power to shape what happens next.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who on Monday scuppered the government's plans to hold another vote on a divorce deal already rejected by Parliament, is playing a pivotal role in the Brexit endgame.
Mr Bercow is best known for presiding over debates, bellowing "Order! Order!" at unruly lawmakers and chastising ministers who displease him.
Citing hundreds of years of precedent, the 56-year-old Speaker told Parliament on Monday that the government cannot resubmit the same deal agreed with the European Union last year for another vote.
It was the latest instance in which Mr Bercow showed he is willing to intervene forcefully against the government in his drive to give Parliament a greater say on Brexit.
Mr Bercow was first elected as an MP for Mrs May's Conservative party, but his elevation to Speaker in 2009 means he is supposed to be politically neutral.
However, his interventions in Brexit debates have prompted accusations from his former colleagues that he is biased both against the government and Brexit itself.
Opposition Labour MPs broadly support him.
He has been accused of presiding over a culture of bullying in the Commons, and did not deny he once referred to a senior government minister as "stupid".
Exchanges between MPs and the Speaker have become increasingly bad-tempered, with tensions reaching boiling point in January, when - defying precedent and the advice of his clerks - Mr Bercow allowed MPs to amend a government motion on Mrs May's deal.
The effect was to force her to quickly return to the Commons to explain herself if the agreement was rejected by MPs - as it was a few days later.
Mr Bercow's decision sparked an angry row in the chamber, as Conservative MPs and ministers stood up to denounce him to his face.
"Many of us will now have an unshakeable conviction that the referee of our affairs... is no longer neutral," one said.
Another challenged him over a sticker on the car he drives, saying "Bollocks to Brexit".
Mr Bercow replied tersely it belonged to his wife and "she is entitled to her views" and insisted he was standing up for the rights of individual lawmakers.
Asked about whether he had ignored the advice of his aides, he said: "If we were guided only by precedent, manifestly nothing in our procedures would ever change."
Mr Bercow was always a Conservative, but in his youth held far-right views he has now rejected. He became an MP in 1997 and 12 years later was elected as Speaker, becoming the youngest person to hold the role for 100 years.
He has sought to modernise Parliament, abandoning the Speaker's traditional robes for a simple gown over a suit, and seeking to make it easier for female MPs with babies.
But critics have said he is pompous and overfond of the sound of his own voice.
One Conservative MP famously described him as a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf".
Before the recent Brexit clashes, he also enraged many Conservatives with his outspoken opposition to allowing US President Donald Trump to address Parliament.
He is due to retire in the next year, but there have been suggestions he could stay on to see Brexit through - an idea likely to dismay the government.
Given Mr Bercow's support from the opposition, ministers can do little about it although reports suggest they might deny him a seat in the House of Lords when he steps down as punishment. - AFP