Commons Speaker apologises after sparking chaos over Gaza vote as SNP say his position ‘untenable’

21 February 2024, 19:28 | Updated: 21 February 2024, 21:31

Lindsay Hoyle apologised to MPs
Lindsay Hoyle apologised to MPs. Picture: Parliament
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The Speaker of the House of Commons has apologised to MPs after he accepted amendments from the Government, the SNP and Labour Party on calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, in an unprecedented move.

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Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs this evening that today's debate was "exceptional in its intensity with which all parties wished to secure a vote on their own propositions".

He said he accepted all three amendments in an attempt to reflect "the widest range of propositions on which to express a view" and also because he had become "very, very concerned about the security of all members".

But Sir Lindsay went on to admit that what he intended had not happened and said he recognised the "strength of feelings of members on this issue".

He then promised to meet with the "key players" of each major party after apologising multiple times.

It then emerged that the Labour Party's amendment to the SNP's motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was approved by MPs.

Following the uproar over the decision to accept the Labour amendment, more than 30 Tory and SNP MPs have tabled a motion of no confidence in Sir Lindsay's speakership, spelling trouble for his future in the role.

The motion reads: "That this House has no confidence in Mr Speaker."

This motion has previously seen speakers leave the role, with one famous example including former speaker Michael Martin who resigned in 2009 in anticipation of losing the vote.

Natasha Clark on scenes in House of Commons

Regardless of Sir Lindsay's apologies, leader of the SNP Stephen Flynn said he feared the speaker's position is untenable, though refused to call for him to resign.

"I am afraid that is treating myself and my colleagues in the SNP with complete and utter contempt."

"Your position is intolerable," Flynn tells the Speaker.

Speaking after the chaotic scenes in Westminster on Wednesday evening, Flynn said: “Today’s shameful events show Westminster is utterly broken.

“This should have been the chance for the UK Parliament to do the right thing and vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel - instead it turned into a Westminster circus.

“It is a disgrace that Sir Keir Starmer and the Speaker colluded to block Parliament voting on the SNP motion for an immediate ceasefire and against the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

“More than 29,000 Palestinian children, women and men have been killed - and huge swathes of Gaza have been obliterated while Westminster equivocates.

“People in Gaza and Israel, and voters in Scotland, have been badly let down - they deserve so much better than this.

“The SNP will continue to press the UK government and parliament to back an immediate ceasefire. The time for equivocation is over.”

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The SNP is furious with the House of Commons speaker
The SNP is furious with the House of Commons speaker. Picture: Parliament

It followed chaotic scenes in the Commons this evening in which Tory and SNP MPs walked out of the commons in protest at Sir Lindsay.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle controversially allowed MPs a vote on Labour’s amendment to an SNP motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire”.

He took the highly unusual step of selecting both a Labour amendment as well as a Government amendment to an SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The decision to select the Labour amendment was greeted in the Commons by Tory cries of “shameful”.

The move, which came in for criticism from the Conservatives and the SNP, means Labour MPs will be able to vote for Sir Keir's stance, announced on Tuesday, calling for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in the Israel-Hamas war.

Such an outcome could have pushed those Labour MPs in favour of a ceasefire towards backing the SNP motion, in a repeat of a damaging rebellion that was witnessed in the autumn on the Middle East issue.

There was uproar in the Commons on Wednesday.
There was uproar in the Commons on Wednesday. Picture: Alamy

In the chamber, there was uproar at Sir Lindsay's decision to choose the Labour amendment for debate.

There were cries of "shameful" and "bring back Bercow" - a reference to the former speaker, Sir John Bercow, who was found guilty of bullying following a parliamentary investigation - as Sir Lindsay set out his reasoning behind selecting both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition's amendments to the SNP motion.

Sir Lindsay explained that he wanted MPs to have the "widest possible range" of options on what he said was "a highly sensitive subject on which feelings are running high".

MPs then halted the debate to vote on whether the House of Commons should sit in private but the motion did not pass, with 20 for and 212 against.

The House of Commons and its procedures have "descended into absolute chaos", SNP former Westminster leader Ian Blackford said.

"They've descended into chaos simply because of a decision taken by the Speaker earlier today.

"Is it too much to ask Madame Deputy Speaker that the Speaker is asked to come to this House and explain exactly why he took those decisions, the consequences of those decisions and how he intends to get this House out of the mess it currently finds itself in, and what reason, Madame Deputy Speaker, would you not suspend the House in order for the Speaker to come here and sort this mess out," he said.

Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton replied: "I said twice already that the Speaker set out this morning in detail why he'd made his decision and he will be in his place tomorrow."

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