U.K. Parliament descends into chaos over vote on Gaza ceasefire

Legislators from the governing Conservatives and the Opposition SNP accuse House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle of upending parliamentary procedure

February 22, 2024 02:36 am | Updated 07:03 am IST - LONDON

A Palestinian flag flaps in the air by a message reading “Stop bombs” projected on the “Big Ben” during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024, on the sidelines of the Opposition Day motion in the House of Commons calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

A Palestinian flag flaps in the air by a message reading “Stop bombs” projected on the “Big Ben” during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024, on the sidelines of the Opposition Day motion in the House of Commons calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. | Photo Credit: AFP

U.K. lawmakers called on February 21 for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war — but only after dozens walked out of the House of Commons in protest at how the vote was handled.

Members had been debating three separate resolutions related to the war. All were largely symbolic and not binding on the government.

But Parliament descended into chaos as legislators from the governing Conservatives and an Opposition party accused Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle of upending parliamentary procedure.

The mayhem broke out during debate on a motion from the Opposition Scottish National Party, or SNP, urging an immediate ceasefire, the release of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas and “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

The main opposition Labour Party, which is divided over how strongly to criticise Israel, submitted a tweaked version of the motion calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, without the mention of collective punishment.

The governing Conservatives put forward their own amendment, which backed an “immediate humanitarian pause”, followed by “moves towards a permanent sustainable” ceasefire. The government says a ceasefire can only happen if Hamas frees all Israeli hostages and relinquishes control of Gaza.

When Mr. Hoyle allowed votes on all three, Conservative lawmakers were furious, saying it went against House of Commons conventions. Some accused Mr. Hoyle — who was elected as a Labour MP before taking up the neutral post of Speaker — of favouring the opposition.

The political mayhem is a sign of how the conflict has divided Britain’s politicians and public, sending tensions soaring.

“His decision has raised temperatures in this House on an issue where feelings are already running high,” said Penny Mordaunt, Conservative leader of the House of Commons.

The SNP, meanwhile, accused Labour of hijacking their motion, and said Mr. Hoyle had enabled them to do it.

Many Conservatives and SNP members walked out, and in their absence the Labour version of the ceasefire call passed on a voice vote — by calls of “Aye” — without a full formal vote.

Afterwards, Mr. Hoyle apologised for the chaos.

“I regret how it’s ended up,” Mr. Hoyle said. “I wanted all to ensure they could express their views and all sides of the House could vote.”

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