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Business News/ News / World/  Pressure Builds on UK Commons Speaker After Gaza Vote Chaos
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Pressure Builds on UK Commons Speaker After Gaza Vote Chaos

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle faced growing calls from Conservative and Scottish National Party politicians to resign over the chaotic scenes in Parliament late Wednesday, triggered by accusations he had intervened to help the Labour Party avoid a rebellion over a vote on Gaza.

Pressure Builds on UK Commons Speaker After Gaza Vote ChaosPremium
Pressure Builds on UK Commons Speaker After Gaza Vote Chaos

(Bloomberg) -- House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle faced growing calls from Conservative and Scottish National Party politicians to resign over the chaotic scenes in Parliament late Wednesday, triggered by accusations he had intervened to help the Labour Party avoid a rebellion over a vote on Gaza.

Over 65 Members of Parliament had signed a motion declaring no confidence in the Speaker as of Thursday evening — one in 10 of all MPs — all SNP and Tory except for a former Conservative sitting as an independent. Though non-binding, the number will alarm Hoyle, whose position depends on broad support.

Read more: House of Commons Sinks Into Chaos Over Israel-Hamas War Vote

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told broadcasters that the Speaker’s handling of the Gaza debate was “very concerning" and warned that Parliament should never be intimidated by “extremists," after the Speaker said he allowed Labour a vote based on concerns over MPs’ safety. Still, he acknowledged that Hoyle had apologized and was “reflecting on what happened."

The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn declared that his party no longer had confidence in Hoyle — a significant blow to the Speaker’s authority. There is no formal process in which the Speaker can be ousted but he could decide to resign if enough MPs call for him to quit.

Many lawmakers will return to their constituencies Thursday, which could give Hoyle a reprieve as the immediate furor over Wednesday’s debate dies down. He has promised an emergency debate to ease tensions, though there are no further details as yet on the exact topic or date.

The chaos was triggered during a debate on the Israel-Hamas war when Hoyle allowed both Keir Starmer’s Labour and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tories to propose changes to the SNP’s call for a cease-fire in Gaza, despite Wednesday being allotted to the Scottish party as an “opposition day." The drama drew comparisons with the heated wrangling in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote.

Though the argument was fought over typically arcane Westminster procedure — the vote was non-binding and would have no impact on British foreign policy — much of the SNP and Conservative anger stemmed from political interests heightened by the buildup to a UK general election expected this year. Hoyle’s move effectively handed Starmer a chance to defuse Labour tensions over his stance on Gaza, robbing the SNP and Tories of an opening to capitalize. 

Starmer denied Conservative accusations that he had threatened Hoyle, saying he had “simply urged" the Speaker to give MPs a range of options to discuss. 

“We should have had a proper debate and a proper resolution with all three propositions being put to a vote," Starmer told broadcasters on Thursday. “The tragedy is the SNP walked off the pitch because they wanted to divide the Labour Party and they couldn’t, and the government walked off the pitch because it thought it was going to lose a vote."

Even so, while Hoyle’s move meant Starmer avoided damaging headlines about a rebellion, outrage over the Speaker’s intervention has drawn more attention to the tight-rope facing the Labour leader on its stance on Gaza.

As in other countries, Hamas’s attack on Israel in October triggered community tensions in the UK, where pro-Palestinian protests as well as counter rallies have been held regularly in cities across the country. It’s an issue that affects all political parties but is especially sensitive for the Labour Party, which has traditionally had strong support from British Muslims.

Starmer has spent months battling to keep his MPs united on an issue that hits a number of pressure points, from his desire to present his poll-leading party as a government-in-waiting ahead of the UK election, to the local pressure in key districts, and his push to draw a line under the allegations of antisemitism that dogged Labour under his left-wing predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

But Labour’s commanding lead in the polls also makes it a target for the Tories and SNP, which is struggling to maintain its dominance in Scotland. An SNP vote calling for a cease-fire in Gaza triggered a rebellion by dozens of Labour MPs in November, and Wednesday’s vote seemed focused on having the same impact. 

That’s why Hoyle’s intervention was so controversial. By selecting Labour’s cease-fire wording to be put to a vote first, it diminished the likelihood of a rebellion that could potentially have undermined Starmer’s leadership. That triggered outrage from the Scottish nationalists and Tories, some of whom walked out in protest. In the end, Labour’s motion passed without a vote.

To be sure, Hoyle denied he had been put under undue pressure by Labour. Explaining his decision, Hoyle said he had been “very, very concerned about the security" of MPs and their families following protests at their homes and offices over the way they voted.

“I will reiterate I made a judgment call that didn’t end up in a position I wanted to — I regret it, I apologize to the House," Hoyle — a former veteran Labour MP who has been Speaker since 2019 — said Thursday. “I have a duty of care. If my mistake is looking after Members, I am guilty."

Tory Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt accused Labour of playing “party politics" on the issue of MP safety, and blamed Starmer for the pressure building on Hoyle, who she called a “decent man." 

“This House will never bow to extremists, threats or intimidation," she told MPs. She also aimed a dig at the SNP, saying had she spoken in Wednesday’s debate, she would have been “critical of how they brought forward the motion and perhaps their motives for doing so — but it is their right to do that."

Though the three main parties all put forward similar motions calling for an end to the fighting, much of the drama Wednesday was triggered by the SNP’s decision to include a description of Israel’s response to Hamas’s attacks as “collective punishment" — taking it beyond what either the Conservative or Labour leadership would be prepared to support. 

Beyond that distinction, the positions were similar. Starmer called for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire" while the government wanted an “immediate humanitarian pause." Despite walking out in protest, the SNP had earlier said that it would support Labour’s position if its own was rejected.

Yet with the general election rapidly coming into focus, parties will take any opportunity for point-scoring — even if it left some MPs lamenting that the House of Commons had lost its focus on the Israel-Hamas war.

“The truth is that both the SNP and the Conservatives were cross mostly because they were denied an opportunity to expose Labour divisions over Gaza," Institute for Government director Hannah White wrote in a commentary.

--With assistance from Kitty Donaldson and Lucy White.

(Updates with Sunak comment in third paragraph.)

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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Published: 23 Feb 2024, 12:38 AM IST
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