My bash­ing from Betty still smarts

Sunday Mirror - - FRONT PAGE -

MPs gen­er­ate much pompous hot air from both ends when they huff and puff about Par­lia­men­tary sovereignty.

But not all of them are talk­ing out of their bot­toms. It can be a pow­er­ful weapon, es­pe­cially if you be­come a vic­tim of it as I did.

Some years ago I fell foul of then Com­mons Speaker Betty Boothroyd be­cause she ob­jected to what I wrote. One ar­ti­cle in­volved a used con­dom found near her chair, an­other booby-trapped mail to an MP and peer.

I got ear­bash­ings from the Com­mons Ser­jeant at Arms, kit­ted out like an up­per- crust ex­tra in Poldark. Some peo­ple would pay good money to be dis­ci­plined by a mil­i­tary gent wear­ing women’s tights and a sword but I just found it weird. Betty, now Baroness Boothroyd, or­dered my de­ten­tion by po­lice and ex­pul­sion from Parliament for six weeks with­out a hear­ing or right of ap­peal. There were dark threats of a per­ma­nent ban to de­stroy my ca­reer. So much for free­dom of speech.

But it wasn’t all bad. I served my ex­ile in the Red Lion op­po­site Down­ing Street and got to spend all day in a pub. On my re­turn MPs decked out a Com­mons bar in yellow rib­bons, the tra­di­tional wel­come home for freed hostages.

There was high-level talk of tak­ing my case to the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights. That could never work as Parliament is so be­yond ECHR ju­ris­dic­tion.

Even Bri­tish law does not ap­ply there, and po­lice only op­er­ate with the Speaker’s per­mis­sion.

Al­though I still smart at this in­jus­tice, I un­der­stand why Speak­ers need ab­so­lute power. John Ber­cow might one day have to chuck out a mis­be­hav­ing PM for do­ing some­thing naugh­tier than skip­ping through a wheat­field.

Re­claim­ing Parliament’s sovereignty from Brus­sels is why many Leavers voted to quit the EU. It’s at the heart of the big vote on Tues­day which will de­cide Theresa May’s fu­ture.

Last week was a game changer, though not en­tirely in a good way. Forc­ing the Gov­ern­ment to re­veal its Brexit le­gal ad­vice by threat­en­ing it with con­tempt binds all fu­ture gov­ern­ments.

They’ll have to pub­lish ad­vice when­ever Parliament asks, which will in­hibit lawyers giv­ing it.

And Do­minic Grieve’s amend­ment to give Parliament the right to de­cide Brexit if Mrs May’s deal is voted down means trust­ing this rag­tag rab­ble of MPs not to make more of a dog’s break­fast of it than the PM al­ready has.

At least no-deal Brexit is off the ta­ble, though there may be no Brexit at all or a Gen­eral Elec­tion or a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

What­ever. They’ll only ever please some of the peo­ple some of the time.

She or­dered ex­pul­sion... I served my ex­ile in the Red Lion Daven­try Tory MP Chris Heaton-Har­ris retweeted a message from Northants fire ser­vice: “In­ci­dent 15:45 False alarm - caused by a par­rot im­per­son­at­ing the smoke alarm at a prop­erty #Daven­try.” One con­cerned lo­cal ob­served: “How many times must it have gone off for the bird to learn how to mimic it?”

OB­JECTED Ex-Speaker Boothroyd

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