Gaza ceasefire vote: Why did MPs walk out in protest at speaker Lindsay Hoyle?

The House of Commons endured a day of acrimony and descended into chaos, concluding with more than an hour of claims and criticism about Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s handling of the Gaza ceasefire debate.

The SNP opted to use one of its allocated Opposition Day Debates to press for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages held by Hamas and “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

Labour responded by tabling an amendment to the motion on top of the government’s. It was then Sir Lindsay’s decision to select the party’s amendment for a vote and debate that angered many MPs.

The SNP were angry as they felt their opposition day had been hijacked by the speaker - but also because they had hoped to expose divisions over Gaza within the Labour Party.

The Conservatives were angry, too, with MPs arguing the speaker, a former Labour MP, did a favour for his old colleagues. They had also hoped Sir Keir would be forced to face an embarassing rebellion, focusing attention on Labour chaos rather than the Tories for a change.

Labour sounded triumphant, accusing the SNP of playing “political games” and painting itself as “the only party with a plan for the challenges facing Britain”.

So with 54 MPs having signed a motion of no confidence in Sir Lindsay, below is a round up of how we got here:

What was expected to happen on Wednesday?

This might not be the most exciting place to start but the first stop is to look at why there was an opposition day debate. Opposition days are allocated in the House of Commons to allow discussion and debate of topics picked by non-government parties. There are 20 in each parliamentary session, with 17 going to the official opposition (Labour) and three for the second largest party (the SNP).

Under Commons rules, when the government tables an amendment to an Opposition Day Debate, the original words of the motion will be voted upon first, and if rejected then the government’s alternative wording will be put to a vote.

The expectation therefore was that the Government amendment to the SNP motion would be selected for debate, with both being voted on.

What did the Speaker do?

Sir Lindsay said he wanted MPs to consider the “widest possible range of options” and announced at the start of Wednesday’s debates that he would be selecting both the Labour amendment and the government amendment.

He acknowledged this was an exceptional move and this provoked uproar in the chamber, with Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne lampooning the speaker by shouting “bring back Bercow!” – a nod to the previous Speaker John Bercow, whose controversial tenure concluded with the Brexit wars.

Sir Lindsay also faced shouts of resign and “shame” from the SNP and Conservative benches.

Why was the speaker’s decision an issue for many MPs?

The SNP argued that the selection of the amendments by the speaker meant they were being denied an opportunity to have a vote on their motion – given that Labour’s amendment would be voted on first and sought to change its content.

Sir Lindsay was also accused of bowing to pressure from Labour to select their amendment to help Sir Keir Starmer avoid a mass rebellion of his MPs, something he has denied.

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt accused Sir Lindsay of having “hijacked” the debate and said it had become a “political row within the Labour Party”, adding: “Regrettably Mr Speaker has inserted himself into that row with today’s decision and undermined the confidence of this House in being able to rely on its long-established standing orders to govern its debates.”

Did anyone else question the decision?

Sir Lindsay was warned by House of Commons Clerk Tom Goldsmith about the unprecedented nature of his decision ahead of the clash with MPs, with the senior official saying he felt “compelled to point out that long-established conventions are not being followed in this case”.

The clerk is the chief adviser to the House on matters of parliamentary procedure, privilege and broader constitutional issues.

What happened next?

Once tempers had calmed after the speaker’s initial decision, an actual debate took place in the House of Commons. Shortly after 6pm and after the SNP frontbench had finished their speech to wind up the debate, Ms Mordaunt made a point of order on behalf of the Government.

It was at this point she attacked the speaker’s handling of the matter and suggested the government would take no part in votes linked to the motion.

As Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton tried to move towards holding the votes, further points of order were raised during heated exchanges.

Mr Flynn repeatedly demanded to know the whereabouts of the speaker before SNP MPs and several Conservative MPs walked out of the chamber in a protest at the handling of matters.

It was understood that SNP MPs headed to the voting lobby in anticipation of voting in favour of calls for a ceasefire.

So they had a vote?

Further points of order continued to be raised, with Conservative MP William Wragg asking if ministers could sign his no confidence motion in the speaker and Dame Rosie denying claims that Sir Lindsay selected Labour’s amendment amid threats from the party that they would “bring him down” should they win the election.

A vote then took place when Mr Wragg rose to ask that the House sat in private. This was defeated but was interpreted by some as a time-wasting ruse in the belief that if the clock ticked past 7pm – the moment of interruption for the day – that no other votes could take place.

Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie later said advice had been taken and the vote on the Labour amendment was required to take place regardless of the timing.

If MPs had decided the House should sit in private, the galleries would have been cleared and the broadcast feed would have ceased.

OK, so at this point there was a vote on the actual debate?

Yes. Labour’s amendment pushing for an immediate Gaza ceasefire was approved by the Commons without a formal vote being called.

The Deputy Speaker ruled that it had been approved on the shouts of MPs. Conservative former minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg later challenged this ruling and said: “It is absolutely extraordinary that that noise level was deemed to be ‘aye’.”

Some MPs were left frustrated that a formal vote did not take place, with many wanting to place on record their decision and show their constituents they had supported a ceasefire.

And how did the speaker respond to events?

Sir Lindsay returned to the chair once Labour’s amendment had been approved. He apologised to the Commons amid shouts of “resign” from some MPs.

He said he was “very, very concerned about the security” of all MPs, adding: “I wanted all to ensure they could express their views and all sides of the House could vote. As it was, in particular the SNP were ultimately unable to vote on their proposition.

“I am, and I regret… with my sadness, that it’s ended up… in this position. That was never my intention for it to end like this. I was absolutely convinced that the decision was done with the right intentions. I recognise the strength of feeling of members on this issue.”

Sir Lindsay also denied meeting Labour adviser Sue Gray on Wednesday.

How did MPs respond to the apology?

The SNP’s Mr Flynn said he would take significant convincing that the Speaker’s position was “not now intolerable” and claimed his party had been treated with contempt.

Sir Lindsay has offered to meet Mr Flynn and other key players to discuss the matter.

What is the impact of Labour’s amendment being agreed?

Opposition Day Debate motions are non-binding on the Government. But on matters such as this they at least signal the feeling of the House of Commons. What was clear from the debate is MPs from all sides want to see an end to the violence in the Hamas-Israel conflict, although they disagree on how best to achieve this.

What happens next?

It is unlikely the speaker has heard the last of Wednesday’s events and business questions on Thursday may be another occasion when Ms Mordaunt and others consider the matter further.