Speaker Bercow Slaps Down Tory MP Who Questioned Jeremy Corbyn’s Patriotism Over Syria

Paul Waugh

Commons Speaker John Bercow has slapped down a Tory MP who questioned Jeremy Corbyn’s patriotism over Syria.

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said that the Corbyn had attacked the UK government so much that some wondered “whose side is he on – theirs or ours?”

The Tory backbencher’s words came as the Labour leader also came under attack from his own MPs after he declared that military action on humanitarian grounds was “legally questionable”.

During a highly charged, three-hour session, Johnson said: “Would the Prime Minister agree with me that it’s frankly astonishing that over the past week the Leader of opposition has spent more time and effort attacking us than attacking President Assad? 

“And will she also agree with me that it’s hardly surprising that some people question whose side he is on - ours or theirs?”

But the Speaker swiftly reprimanded the Conservative MP’s decision to “effectively to attack someone else’s motives”.

“We are democrats in this place and we attack each other’s political positions but we should not impune each other’s integrity,” Bercow said.

He refused to allow Johnson to reply. “No response is required from the Honourable Gentleman. We should leave it there.”

A senior Labour source told HuffPost UK: “The Speaker was right to call out this baseless Tory smear, which says about Gareth Johnson than it does about Jeremy.”

Earlier, Labour MP Jess Phillips expressed her dismay at those who sought to make domestic political capital out of the Syrian chemical attack.

“I rise to ask that everybody in this place tries to have better faith in each other in critiquing whether they think this is right or wrong.

“Because this is not an opportunity for politics about the local elections, this is about children being gassed. And on both sides I have heard ridiculous politicking and bad faith.

“People need to have good faith in us. It is not about our voices, it’s about the Syria people’s voices”. 

Labour MP Mike Gapes

During the Commons debate, Labour backbenchers Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Mary Creagh and John Woodcock all warned their leader that he was abandoning Labour’s “noble tradition” of intervening to help civilians brutalised by dictators.

Theresa May told MPs that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was “a stain on humanity” and said that the legal basis for the RAF air strikes at the weekend lay in the fact that there had been “extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief”

Corbyn was resolute that Theresa May had failed her own test because she and Boris Johnson had admitted that the military action would have no bearing on the civil war.

Earlier, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson published a legal opinion from an Oxford professor that stated humanitarian grounds were insufficient justification for the Syrian military intervention.

The Labour leader also said that while “much suspicion rightly points to Assad”, some Islamic extremist opposition groups in Syria had used poison attacks in the past.

But his stance sparked a backlash from MPs who felt that it jettisoned the party’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ first formed by former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook under Tony Blair in the 1990s.

Gapes, a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: “Can I remind her and the Rt Hon Member for Islington North [Corbyn] that it was a Labour government with Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary which carried out air strikes in Iraq under Operation Desert Fox in 1998 without a UN resolution?

Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons 

“That it was a Labour government that restored President Kabbah in Sierra Leone without a UN resolution, that it was a Labour government that stopped the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo without a UN resolution?

“And that there is a long-standing and noble tradition on these benches supporting humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect?”

Former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie also suggested Corbyn wanted to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the chemical weapons attack on civilians.

“Would the Prime Minister agree that a policy if inaction also would have severe consequences and that those who would turn a blind eye, who would do nothing in pursuit of some moral high ground, should also be held accountable for once.”

Creagh, who chairs the Environmental Audit Select Committee and is a former Shadow Cabinet minister, said: “International humanitarian law is clear. There is no time, no place ever where chemical weapons may be used.

“And enforcing that law, that taboo is absolutely imperative whether those weapons used on streets of Salisbury or the bunkers of Douma.

“Many on this side of the House support the action she took. We also support Labour’s proud tradition of taking action to intervene in humanitarian protection conflicts and we will act to protect that tradition.”

John Woodcock, a noted critic of Corbyn over the Salisbury poisoning, added that he too was “proud” of Labour’s tradition of intervention and jibed again at his leader. 

“It would be shameful if that were abandoned now by people who would not countenance intervention in any circumstances,” he said.

Woodcock however echoed the views of many Labour MPs who demanded that May should take similar military action to set up humanitarian corridors to get aid to refugees trapped by the Assad regime. 

Wes Streeting attacked protestors from Stop The War who were gathered outside Parliament Square.

“This evening’s Stop The War Coalition demonstration should be taking place outside the Russian embassy, not outside this Parliament.”