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Commons Speaker Apologises After Gaza Ceasefire Debate Fallout

House of Commons speaker Lindsey Hoyle (Alamy)

4 min read

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has apologised for his part in farcical unfolding of a Gaza ceasefire debate after his decision to select both Labour and Conservative amendments to an opposition day motion.

The Speaker had faced fury from SNP and Tory MPs after his unusual decision to select both [party's amendments for debate. 

The SNP had put forward an opposition day motion calling for "an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel". It specifically states a desire to see an "end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people". 

Labour, which was keen to avert a rebellion in which its own MPs voted for the SNP's motion put forward its own amendment calling for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire" that is "observed by all sides", which the SNP has subsequently agreed to back. On Tuesday night the government complicated matters by adding its own amendment, urging an "immediate humanitarian pause" with "moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire". 

Ordinarily any Government amendment would take priority but an unusual decision by the Commons speaker to select both the Tory and Labour amendments prompted shouts in the chamber over his controversial break with precedence. 

The backlash was swift but severe with Conservative backbencher William Wragg tabling an early day motion declaring no confidence in the Speaker and the Clerk of the House, Tom Goldsmith explicitly criticising Hoyle's decision.  

After an evening of chaos in the House of Commons Hoyle returned to his chair and said he "regrets" how the day unfolded. 

"I wanted to do the best by every member of the House," he said. 

"I regret how it's ended up. It was not my intention. I wanted all to ensure they could express their views. As it was, in particularly the SNP, were unable to vote on their own proposition.

"It is with my sadness that it ended in this position. It was never my intention. I recognise the strength of feeling of this house and its members. I will reflect on my part in that. I do not want it to have ended like this."

An SNP spokesperson had earlier accused Westminster of turning the day into a "pantomime". 

They said this afternoon: "Today was supposed to be about the UK Parliament having the opportunity to vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel - but instead Westminster has turned it into a pantomime of dodgy backroom deals and political game playing."

Early Day Motions are submitted for debate in the House of Commons, and can be used to demonstrate the level of parliamentary support for a particular issue.

Enough signatories on Wragg's EDM could pose a challenge to Hoyle's position, with a number of Tory figures already expressing their support for the sentiment.  

One senior Tory told PoliticsHome that they would "almost certainly sign it". 

"I think it was a very serious misjudgment," they added.

Another described Hoyle's behaviour as "unacceptable". 

There are concerns over whether not addressing today's decision will signify a change in precedent in Parliament more widely, 

Pete Wishart, a former whip for the SNP in Westminster described the Speaker’s ruling as “absolutely ridiculous”. He said that Hoyle "has totally lost it and this will come back to haunt him". 

“He talks about precedent but this has practically never happened,” Wishart posted on social media. 

“He has changed Commons precedent to save Labour an embarrassing rebellion,” Wishart wrote in a follow-up post. 

Hoyle told MPs in the Commons that he thinks it is “important on this occasion that the House is able to consider the widest possible range of options” given the strength of feeling in the House and across the country. 

Clerk of the House, Tom Goldsmith told the Speaker that he believed “long-established conventions are not being followed in this case”. 

In a letter to Hoyle, laying out his view on the matter, Goldsmith said that it is his view that “the decision to allow an Official Opposition spokesperson to speak and to move an amendment before a Government minister in response to an SNP spokesperson moving their Opposition day motion represents a departure from the long-established convention for dealing with such amendments on Opposition days.” 

However, he acknowledged that he believes the decision was “not an easy one”.

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