'She's behind you': furious row breaks out in Commons as Jeremy Corbyn fails to let Labour MP Angela Smith speak on second referendum

Ella Wills

A furious row erupted in the House of Commons today after Jeremy Corbyn refused to give way to an intervention by veteran Labour MP Angela Smith.

The Labour leader's speech during Tuesday's Brexit debate was hampered by a dispute over his failure to take a series of interventions from MPs including from his colleague Ms Smith, who is campaigning for a second referendum.

Mr Corbyn's refusal to take the intervention from the Labour backbencher led to jeers of "she's behind you" by Tory MPs.

Eventually Mr Corbyn relented and allowed the Environment Secretary Michael Gove to interrupt him, who queried why Mr Corbyn was "scared" to allow Ms Smith to intervene when she has been a "member of the Labour party for 37 years".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's Commons speech was dogged by points of order (PA)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's Commons speech was dogged by points of order (PA)

Mr Corbyn ignored the question, instead mockingly thanking the Cabinet minister for his "brief statement of his leadership intentions".

The debate ahead of a crucial series of votes on the withdrawal agreement tonight was then branded a "farce" as Chief Whip Julian Smith was pictured holding up a piece of paper towards Mr Corbyn.

Chief Whip Julian Smith was pictured holding a piece of paper up to Mr Corbyn (Stella Creasy)
Chief Whip Julian Smith was pictured holding a piece of paper up to Mr Corbyn (Stella Creasy)

The sign is believed to have read: "Angela wants to ask about a second referendum."

The row erupted as Mr Corbyn confirmed Labour support for a plan tabled by senior backbencher Yvette Cooper which would result in the extension of Article 50 to keep the UK in the EU beyond the expected March 29 Brexit date.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove questioned why Ms Smith's request had been denied (Parliament TV)
Environment Secretary Michael Gove questioned why Ms Smith's request had been denied (Parliament TV)

But his comments soon became bogged down by several points of order and frustration from MPs as Ms Smith was denied an intervention by Mr Corbyn.

In a point of order, Ms Smith said: "I wonder with all the noise in the chamber, whether or not being directly behind the Leader of the Opposition, my request for intervention may not have been heard."

Angela Smith was refused an intervention by Mr Corbyn (Parliament TV)
Angela Smith was refused an intervention by Mr Corbyn (Parliament TV)

And as Mr Corbyn repeatedly refused to give way, Tory MPs began to heckle: "She's behind you."

Commons Speaker John Bercow was forced to intervene several times, accusing the Conservative benches of an "orchestrated attempt" to try and "shout down the Leader of the Opposition".

It prompted veteran MP Frank Field to suggest that the debate was "damaging to our standing with the nation", and that it should be shut down and MPs moved straight on to the voting, an idea Mr Bercow rejected.

Mr Field observed that people watching the debate may not realise that the noise levels are related to the refusal of the person speaking to taking interventions.

Labour MP Stella Creasy was among those to slam the Commons proceedings on Tuesday as a "farce".

In a series of tweets she wrote: "This is a farce. Been going now for two hours and there’s nothing here to find any way forward - we are now onto the point of order chorus section of parliamentary Groundhog Day. We have to find a better way to do this not just on Brexit but generally!"

She added, alongside a picture of Mr Smith: "And now the actual chief whip is holding up a sign - none of us can read it - but what’s next? Bunny ears?! That’s why suggesting this needs a citizen’s assembly …not a school one…"

Ms Smith launched a petition at the end of last year urging Mr Corbyn to back a so-called People's Vote on Brexit.

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