House of Commons descends into chaos over Gaza vote

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A House of Commons vote on the Israel-Hamas war descended into chaos on Wednesday night as Conservative and Scottish National party MPs walked out of the chamber in protest at the Speaker’s handling of the debate.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s position appeared in jeopardy after he broke with convention to allow a vote on a Labour amendment to a SNP parliamentary motion calling for a ceasefire — a move for which he later apologised.

Hoyle’s decision handed opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer a reprieve, since it defused the prospect of a large-scale rebellion by Labour MPs on Gaza but sparked outcry from other political parties.

The Labour amendment, which called for a ceasefire with conditions, was eventually approved without a vote.

A visibly upset Hoyle told the Commons he had made his decision because he was concerned about the security of MPs and their families, alluding to threats issued to politicians over their stances on the war.

“I regret . . . that it has ended up in this position, it was never my intention,” the former Labour MP said. “I did not want it to end like this.”

The Speaker said he wanted to meet party leaders and their chief whips to have a discussion on “what is the best way forward”.

It later emerged that more than 30 MPs — consisting of Conservative and SNP parliamentarians — had signed an early-day motion of no confidence in the Speaker.

Some parliamentarians queried Hoyle’s claim that concerns about MPs’
security had fuelled his controversial move, with one Tory peer
warning the suggestion amounted to “a democratic crisis if it’s true”.

Earlier, as the debate on the SNP motion neared its conclusion, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt had announced that Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government would be withdrawing its own amendment.

“The government will play no further part in the decision this House takes on proceedings,” she said.

Mordaunt blamed the Speaker for allowing votes on both Labour and Tory amendments, saying: “Regrettably Mr Speaker has inserted himself into the row and undermined the confidence of this House.”

In protest at his decision, SNP MPs briefly walked out of the Commons chamber along with large numbers of their Conservative counterparts. In a sign of disarray, the Commons also voted on — but rejected — a motion to hold a session in private.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, later told Hoyle: “I will take significant convincing that your position is not now intolerable.”

Before Hoyle chose to allow a vote on the Labour amendment, Starmer had been braced for a revolt by dozens of MPs and possible resignations from his shadow cabinet.

Labour bosses had feared that rebel MPs would defy the party’s whip by supporting the more strongly worded motion from the SNP, which had initiated the debate.

But the Speaker’s decision broke with convention, since the government had also put forward an amendment of its own to the SNP’s motion.

An ally of Hoyle earlier dismissed claims that he had bowed to pressure from Labour after meeting privately with Starmer as “complete nonsense”, adding that the Speaker had met whips from other parties too as part of his “open-door policy” ahead of big moments in the Commons.

In highly unusual criticism of Hoyle’s decision as being a break with convention, Tom Goldsmith, the Commons clerk and authority on procedure for the chamber, said: “Long-established principles are not being followed in this case.”

But the Speaker said it was important for the Commons to be able to consider “the widest possible range of options” given the strength of feeling among MPs.

The Labour amendment said an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, the southern area of Gaza to which more than 1mn people have fled, risked “catastrophic humanitarian consequences”.

It called for an “immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts and is observed by all sides”.

However, the amendment also urged Hamas to release and return all the hostages it holds and said Israel could not be expected to stop fighting so long as the Palestinian militant group “continues with violence”.

The government’s motivation in pulling its own amendment was later called into question.

While the move was purportedly an act of protest against the Speaker’s conduct, Tory MPs claimed the underlying reason was to avoid a government rebellion after some Conservatives privately threatened to abstain on — rather than vote against — Labour’s amendment.

Ministers did not want to risk a humiliating defeat by attempting, but failing, to defeat Labour’s amendment in a vote, some Tory MPs alleged. The claim was dismissed as “completely untrue” by a government insider.

Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and took about 250 hostage during its attack on southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli officials. Some hostages have since been freed.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed more than 29,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

The UK and other nations are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with the UN warning about the risks of famine and widespread disease.