Vote on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip The debate

Vote on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip: The debate in the lower house descends into chaos

  • By Becky Morton
  • Political reporter

February 21, 2024

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Watch: Chaos in the House of Commons over Gaza ceasefire vote

A House of Commons debate over calls for a ceasefire in Gaza descended into chaos after the speaker was accused of allowing Labor to “hijack”.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle sparked anger from the SNP and Conservatives when he broke with convention and allowed a vote on a Labor motion for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

The spokesman later apologized and said he had acted “with the right intentions.”

But the SNP said they were “treated with complete contempt”.

Labour's amendment was pushed through without a formal vote with loud chants of “yes” after the government said it would not take part in the protests.

This meant there was no vote on the SNP's motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire”, which was originally intended to be the focus of the debate.

The government does not have to adopt Labour's position as the vote is not binding.

In extraordinary scenes, SNP MPs and some Tories walked out of the chamber over the Speaker's handling of the vote.

After Sir Lindsay asked him to come back and explain his decision, he told the House of Commons that he had decided to allow a vote on the Labor motion to allow MPs to express their views on “the widest range of proposals”.

To shouts of resignation, he said: “I thought I did the right thing and the best thing, and I regret it and apologize for the way it turned out.”

“I take responsibility for my actions and that’s why I want to meet with the key players who were involved.”

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said while he noted the speaker's apology, House of Commons officials had warned the decision could lead to his party being eliminated on what has been declared an SNP opposition day was unable to vote.

Visibly angry, he said his party had been treated with “complete disregard.”

“It will be a great job of persuasion for me that your position now is not untenable,” he added.

In a statement after the debate, Mr Flynn said it was “a disgrace that Sir Keir Starmer and the Speaker worked together to block Parliament's vote on the SNP motion”.

“This should have been the chance for the British Parliament to do the right thing and vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel – instead it became a Westminster circus,” he added.

Image source: British Parliament

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Sir Lindsay returned to the chamber to apologize to MPs

This came after Commons leader Penny Mordaunt said Sir Lindsay had “undermined the confidence” of the House and suggested his decision had allowed Labor to “hijack” the debate.

She said this had “raised the temperature in this House on an issue about which emotions are already running high”.

Previously, a source close to the speaker said the claim that he was pressured was “absolutely untrue”.

Sir Keir accused the Conservatives and SNP of “prioritizing political games over serious solutions”.

“Today was an opportunity for Parliament to unite and speak with one voice about the terrible situation in Gaza and Israel,” he said in a statement following the debate.

Sir Lindsay was initially elected as a Labor MP, but after becoming Speaker he gave up his party affiliation and the party conference.

Although he said he would meet with key MPs from the main parties to discuss what happened, the speaker remains under intense pressure.

Very few early motions are debated, but they allow MPs to express their support for an issue.

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Hundreds line up to lobby MPs to vote on a ceasefire in Gaza

The debate took place as thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Parliament Square.

Over the course of the day, a long queue had formed outside the House of Commons, with demonstrators hoping to personally convince MPs to support a ceasefire.

Sir Lindsay's decision meant Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer avoided another possible uprising over the party's position on Gaza, as Labor MPs could express their support for a ceasefire without voting for an SNP motion.

The motion went further than Labour's by calling for an end to “collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

David Lammy, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, also argued it shows “no path to a sustainable peace” and “appears to be one-sided”.

“For a ceasefire to work, it is essential that all sides respect it,” he added.

Labour's amendment states that Israel “cannot be expected to stop fighting if Hamas continues its violence” and calls for a diplomatic process to ensure “a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state ” to accomplish.

Earlier this week, Labor changed its position and called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” after months of pressure from backbenchers and activists.

The government calls for “an immediate humanitarian pause” and supports steps toward a “permanent, sustainable ceasefire.”

Israel began its operations in Gaza after a Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people and took more than 240 others hostage.

More than 29,000 people have been killed in the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip since then, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run health ministry.