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Why U.K. Commons Speaker Is Facing Calls to Resign After Chaotic Gaza Ceasefire Debate

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After an evening of chaos in the U.K. House of Commons on Wednesday, British lawmakers are calling for Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to resign.

At the time of publication, at least 59 MPs have signed a motion of no confidence in Hoyle over his handling of a debate on whether to back a ceasefire in Gaza. Members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the ruling Conservatives staged a walkout of the chamber on Wednesday evening in protest over what they believed to be a breach of parliamentary procedure on Hoyle’s part.

Speakers of the House of Commons must remain politically neutral at all times, but Hoyle was accused of breaking a long-standing convention to allow a vote on Labour’s amendment to an SNP ceasefire proposal. The rule dictates that motions presented by opposition parties can only be amended by the Government and not by other opposition parties. But Hoyle bypassed this to further open up the debate. 

The SNP is entitled to three opposition days per parliamentary session where they can choose the topic that the chamber will debate. The SNP selected Wednesday as the day to put forward its motion for an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza, a stance that the party has held since November.

Labour announced it would put forward an amendment to the motion, calling for “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but also saying “that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence.” The amendment removed any mention of the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” a term that could amount to accusations of war crimes.

But amid walkouts and internal fighting, Labour’s amendment passed "on the nod," without being voted on.  

Here’s what to know about what transpired in the House of Commons during the debate over a Gaza ceasefire vote. 

What went wrong in the Commons?

The Conservatives were set to present their own amendment but withdrew their efforts. The move came after Hoyle’s decision to allow a vote on the Labour amendment. The Leader of the Commons, Tory MP Penny Mordaunt told fellow lawmakers that the government will "play no further part in today's proceedings."

Mordaunt later accused Hoyle of inserting himself into Labour’s internal row and said his actions  "undermined the confidence of this House in being able to rely on long-established conventions.” 

One MP called Hoyle’s decision “overtly political,” according to Channel 4 News, and suggested it was an effort to aid Labour leader Keir Starmer, who was likely to face a rebellion from the members of his own party who wanted to back a ceasefire. 

As such, Labour’s amendment passed without a vote due to the Conservatives withdrawing their own. In doing so, the SNP motion was never voted on in its original form.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, expressed anger on behalf of his party and demanded Hoyle return to the Commons to explain himself. "Where on earth is the Speaker of the House of Commons and how do we bring him to this House now to explain to the SNP why our views and our votes in this House are irrelevant to him?" he said. 

SNP and Conservative MPs, in a rare show of unity, staged a walkout of the Commons chamber over Hoyle’s conduct. 

Hoyle later returned to the Commons to apologize for the stir he had caused. "I regret how it's ended up,” he said. “It was not my intention. I wanted all to ensure they could express their views. As it was, in particular the SNP, were unable to vote on their own proposition.” 

"I thought I was doing the right thing. I do take responsibility for my actions.”

Who is Sir Lindsay Hoyle?

Lindsay Hoyle, a 66-year-old British politician, was a member of the Labour party prior to becoming Speaker, and has served as the MP for Chorley since 1997. He is the son of Lord Doug Hoyle, a former MP who was made a life peer in 1997.

Hoyle has served on Parliament’s Trade and Industry Select Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee. He has held the role of Speaker of the House of Commons since he replaced John Bercow in 2019. As a result of reforms in 2010, the Speaker was elected by MPs rather than the Leader of the Commons. 

What is the role of the Speaker?

The role of the Speaker is strictly apolitical. The Speaker presides over parliamentary debates and represents the House of Commons on ceremonial occasions and events. Although they are elected lawmakers, they must not be seen taking a stance on matters of Politics or favoring any one party. 

The speaker can at times take on the role of referee during heated debates and maintain order in the House by ensuring procedures are followed. The speaker can extend or shorten debate time before bills or motions are voted on. 

They can also decide who speaks in the House, with MPs “catching the Speaker's eye” in order to do so, or writing to the speaker to notify him in advance. 

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