October 3, 2019 / 10:46 AM / a month ago

UK parliament silenced? Hoarse Speaker Bercow battles to be heard

LONDON (Reuters) - Speaker John Bercow, one of the most prominent voices in Britain’s Brexit debate, struggled to make himself heard on Thursday when a sore throat cruelly reduced his customary booming cry of “Order! Order” to a painful-sounding growl.

Britain's Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, talks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Files

Bercow, who has refereed hours of rancorous Brexit debate in parliament in recent years, has earned global notoriety for his loud and verbose outbursts, ruthlessly chiding lawmakers who step out of line and making sure speeches can be heard.

But on Thursday he kicked off the day’s parliamentary session in much less flamboyant style, forced to clear his throat mid-“Order, order” and struggle with his words in a noticeably hoarse voice.

The contrast with his usual delivery caused sitting members of parliament to titter, before Bercow remarked in wry fashion to one inaudible heckler: “It won’t last long, don’t worry.”

One lawmaker even offered him a lozenge.

Bercow’s office said: “The simple truth is, he has a sore throat.”

It was the most prominent loss of a political voice in Britain since 2017 when then Prime Minister Theresa May famously croaked her way through a speech at the Conservative Party conference.

The Speaker’s role is to maintain order in the House of Commons, ensuring lawmakers are heard and procedure followed.

Bercow, 56, has relished that challenge in his decade atop the Speaker’s chair - an ornate wooden throne at the heart of the Commons debating chamber - taking on an increasingly activist role in the Brexit debate to ensure parliament has its say.

He announced last month he would step down from the role soon, offering a warning to the government that it should not seek to degrade parliament.

Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison

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