What You Need To Know About The Commons' Chaotic Gaza Debate And The Backlash Against The Speaker

Lindsay Hoyle in hot water after upending parliamentary precedent.
The SNP's Stephen Flynn, House speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Labour's Keir Starmer
The SNP's Stephen Flynn, House speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Labour's Keir Starmer

The House of Commons descended into chaos on Wednesday night, as political precedent became a huge obstacle amid a vote to call for a Gaza ceasefire.

Some MPs got so worked up they dramatically walked out of the chamber – and now the speaker of the House, Lindsay Hoyle, is fighting for his job.

Here’s what you need to know about an evening of parliamentary uproar which left even hardened political pundits stunned.

What were MPs originally going to be voting on?

The SNP had tabled a motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire for all combatants” in Gaza, where Israel and Palestinian militants are fighting.

The motion condemned the “collective punishment” of Palestinians.

SNP said an immediate ceasefire was the “only way to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians”.

Almost 30,000 civilians in Gaza have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

This motion was particularly controversial as Israel declared war on the Palestinian militants after Hamas killed 1,200 people on Israeli soil and took 240 others hostage on October 7.

But, even if the SNP motion passed, it would not be binding to the government – it would just be an effective way for parliament’s opposition to show how it feels about an issue.

The SNP – which has 43 seats in the Commons – was only able to present this motion because it was opposition day – meaning non-government parties could choose the subject of discussion. There are only 20 days for this purpose per parliamentary session.

What was the Labour amendment?

Labour proposed an amendment to the SNP’s motion on Tuesday, out of fear that it would divide its MPs over whether or not to back it.

That’s pretty unusual for one opposition party to table an amendment for another opposition party’s motion – on an opposition day.

The party’s carefully-worded amendment still wanted to call for a ceasefire, but emphasised the role of Hamas and Israel in a way which Labour hoped would appeal to more of its MPs.

It used the phrase “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” for the first time, suggesting Labour is taking a firmer approach to Israel.

This is a controversial phrase Labour have mostly avoided since November, when the party’s MPs were split in a vote over its use in a different SNP motion.

Ten frontbenchers who backed the motion had to leave their shadow cabinet roles for going against the party’s line.

What was the government’s amendment?

The government then proposed an amendment, too.

This amendment wanted an “immediate humanitarian pause” – rather than an immediate ceasefire – before urging a move“towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire”.

That would mean Hamas had to release all hostages, relinquish control of Gaza and the international community would focus on creating a two-state solution.

The Conservatives’ amendment also “supports Israel’s right to defence, in compliance with international humanitarian law”.

Why was this a big deal?

Normally, only one of these two amendments can be selected for a vote.

Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is the only who makes the final decision, based on his advice from the Commons clerks and parliamentary convention.

He was widely expected to choose the government’s motion, in line with convention – otherwise, it would be one opposition party’s amendment to another opposition party’s motion.

Labour did not say how it would ask its MPs to vote if its own amendment was not selected.

If that had been the case, it could have revive the party’s divisions over the Gaza-Israel war, choosing between the SNP’s harder line against Israel and the government’s softer approach.

What did Lindsay Hoyle decide?

As Speaker of the House, Hoyle is obliged to remain impartial at all times, even though he is a former Labour MP.

However, he dramatically ignored convention on Wednesday night when he chose the Labour amendment as well as the Conservative amendment.

That’s the first time in at least 25 years that this occurred on Opposition day.

The clerk of the House acknowledged this was unusual, saying selecting both amendment “represents a departure from the long-established convention for dealing with such amendments on opposition days”.

But, Hoyle had the final decision.

MPs were furious at the move, with the SNP and the Tories accused him of helping Labour to avoid an internal row over how to vote.

A huge row ensued – which shocked even the MPs in attendance.

The row also drew further criticism for overshadowing the matter at the core of the debate – the devastation in Gaza, where millions are displaced and fear further ground invasions from the Israeli forces.

What was the outcome?

After four hours of debate, the government withdrew its own amendment.

Tory and SNP MPs walked out of the chamber in protest, as it became clear the Scottish nationalists’ motion would not be voted on.

That meant Labour’s amendment was passed unopposed.

After an uproar, Hoyle returns to the chamber and apologised, saying he was trying to protect MPs from a backlash from pro-Palestine campaigners.

He said: “It was my wish to do the best by every member of this House... because I am very, very concerned about the security of all members.”

However, he said, “I regret how it’s ended up”, and acknowledged the SNP were ultimately “unable to vote on their proposition”.

He added that he was “absolutely convinced that the decision was done with the right intentions” but claimed the row “has not shown the House at its best”.

“I will reflect on my part,” he said. “I recommit myself that all members of this House are treated fairly. I do not want it to have ended like this.”

Hoyle also said he “offended” by Tory claims he was pressured by Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray, to accept the Labour amendment.

What happens now?

The Speaker’s position hangs in the balance. As of 10am on Thursday, a total of 51 MPs had signed a motion of no confidence in Hoyle.

By 11am, this had risen to 57 MPs.

According to a source speaking to POLITICO’s Playbook, Monday is expected be the “crunch day” for the speaker’s future, as many MPs had already left Westminster for the weekend.


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