Speaker Lindsay Hoyle sparks chaos: five steps to understanding why MPs stormed out of Parliament during Gaza vote

Chaos engulfed the House of Commons on Wednesday, February 21 when MPs representing the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party (SNP) stormed out of the chamber following a furious row over a debate on calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The situation was complex but can be explained in five key moments.

The main piece of business in the House of Commons on the day in question was an opposition day debate tabled by the Scottish National Party (SNP) calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Opposition day debates are an opportunity for opposition parties to put issues that they care about onto the parliamentary agenda.

There are 20 opposition days allocated per parliamentary year – 17 for the main opposition party (Labour) to set the agenda and three for the second opposition party (the SNP).

The drama unfolded on an SNP day and the chaos was triggered by the wording of the motion put forward for debate by the SNP. This contained the phrase “collective punishment of the Palestinian people” and did not include a call for a two-state solution, which Labour objected to.

1. The SNP sets a trap

To some degree the motion was a political trap set by the SNP for Labour.

In a November vote on the situation in Gaza, the Labour party suffered a major rebellion, with 56 MPs voting with the SNP and against their own party to show their support for a ceasefire. Several shadow ministers resigned so they could vote this way.

Along with a desire to express support for a ceasefire, the SNP evidently saw an opportunity to split Labour once again with its opposition day motion.

2. Labour tables its own amendment

To avoid a split, Labour tabled its own amendment to the SNP’s motion. This called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” and included additional details, such as a call for a two-state solution. However it is unusual for opposition parties to seek to amend the motions of other opposition parties.

On such occasions where an opposition amendment is tabled, it is voted upon first, prior to the original (in this case SNP) motion. The spanner in the works here for Labour was that the government also tabled its own amendment to the SNP motion.

In this situation it comes down to the Speaker to decide which amendment is selected – and typically only one is selected. If the government tables an amendment to an opposition day motion, it will be called. The tabling of such an amendment from the government would have, in normal circumstances, torpedoed Labour’s plan.

3. The speaker makes an unexpected decision

However, something unexpected then came to pass. Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, decided to permit both Labour and the government’s amendment to be called to allow for the widest possible debate.

Although not completely against House of Commons rules (standing orders) allowing both amendments to proceed does go against convention. The speaker’s decision was taken against the advice of the clerk of the House of Commons (the most senior adviser to the speaker and the house).

Hoyle appears to have made the decision to select both amendments for a vote having spoken to Labour MPs about the fears for their safety. Many have said that they’ve faced threats of violence for failing to speak out in favour of a ceasefire.

Back in December, the constituency office of Conservative MP Mike Freer was hit by an arson attack (fortunately no one was injured) and he has since announced he is standing down as an MP over personal safety fears.

These MPs had asked for the opportunity to express their support for a ceasefire in the chamber via the Labour amendment to make their position clear to the public. Party leader Keir Starmer, in tabling the Labour amendment, was attempting to give them the opportunity to do so.

4. MPs storm out of the chamber

Despite Hoyle’s decision being made apparently with the best of intentions, it angered many MPs, especially as it broke both convention and the official advice of the clerk of the house.

A shouting match broke out between MPs on both sides of the house and between MPs and the speaker and his deputy. The government withdrew its amendment so it couldn’t be voted on and asked its MPs not to take part in any votes. SNP and Conservative MPs walked out of the House of Commons chamber in anger over what had happened.

In withdrawing its amendment, the government prevented a sequence of votes from occurring. Had the government not withdrawn its amendment, there would have been three votes.

MPs would have voted first on Labour’s amendment (which would have likely been defeated due to the government’s majority), then on the SNP’s original opposition day motion (which would also have been likely defeated due to the government’s majority) and finally on the government’s amendment. The speaker’s plan was for everyone’s motions and amendments to be put to a vote – it just didn’t work out that way.

5. Labour’s amendment passes

Amid the chaos of the government withdrawing, a vote did eventually take place. Labour’s amendment to the SNP motion was taken and passed without objection. That meant that the SNP motion was duly amended and passed too (but not in the original form that the party wanted).

SNP MPs are justifiably angry. It was their opposition day debate (of which they only get three days per parliamentary year) and it has been completely overshadowed by screaming and shouting over parliamentary procedure.

The result: an important issue overshadowed

Despite the House of Commons passing a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, MPs have not covered themselves in glory. The public will certainly be questioning what on earth was going on.

This anger, over what some MPs see as an abuse of procedure, has completely overshadowed the actual topic of the debate, the conflict in Israel and Gaza, as well as the humanitarian disaster. Although opposition day motions are not binding on the government, and this vote would not have led to a ceasefire, it is an issue which matters to MPs – and to the wider public.

Nor should we underestimate how angry MPs are at the speaker’s decision. He has apologised and said he made the wrong decision but many believe that he has overstepped his authority and have accused him of being biased towards Labour by backing both amendments.

At the time of writing, 60 MPs had signed an early day motion (used by MPs to draw attention to a particular issue) stating that they have no confidence in Hoyle as speaker. They include SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn. Calmer heads may prevail over the coming days but the decision Hoyle made has undermined his position and authority.

This article has been corrected. It originally stated the Mike Freer is a Labour MP when he is in fact a Conservative MP.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Thomas Caygill has previously received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.