Speaker slams PM for lowering tone of debate with Starmer IRA accusation

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

The House of Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, pictured above, has criticised Boris Johnson for lowering the tone of the debate by accusing Keir Starmer of “basically being a supporter of the IRA” during Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

In a Times Radio interview, Lindsay Hoyle has said he “wasn’t comfortable” with the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Labour leader on Wednesday and said it was “touching a nerve of something I didn’t quite like”.

The Speaker said: “I get many, many letters and emails saying, why can’t you hold the Prime Minister to account? Why doesn’t he answer the questions?

“The fact is, I’m not there to ensure how the Prime Minister answers questions. I’m there to make sure we have good order in the chamber.

“I think it was becoming very personal, something I wanted to take out of that. I don’t think it was the right way to take the House on Wednesday. To make accusations of people is not a good way forward.

“The chamber sets the tone, and that was not a good tone I wanted to see. To accuse somebody of basically being a supporter of the IRA, someone who had actually prosecuted the IRA, was touching a nerve of something I didn’t quite like.”

boris johnston 1.jpg 2Pressed during PMQs on the 13 U-turns that the government has performed over the summer, Johnson accused the leader of the opposition of having “supported an IRA-condoning politician” by working under Jeremy Corbyn.

“I wasn’t comfortable with it. If I’m not comfortable with it, how is the person who was receiving it?” Hoyle commented. “It’s very easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and say something maybe with hindsight we ought not to say.”

The Speaker was also sceptical when asked about the chances of parliament returning to normal by Christmas, as suggested by Johnson, pictured left. He said: “Who knows? I’m glad he’s got a crystal ball. Mine’s not quite as clear as the Prime Minister’s.

“I’d like to believe everybody in this country will be back to normal by Christmas. I don’t quite see that, but if he knows something I don’t know, so be it. I want the chamber to come back. But I will not compromise health and safety.”

The Commons moved to a hybrid system during the coronavirus pandemic with MPs allowed to contribute to debates remotely. Parliament returned from recess earlier this week but a limit of 50 MPs in the chamber remains in place.

Hoyle added: “We are a Covid-secure workplace. If we were to lose that status, the game is over. It’s about working in an efficient way. If people don’t need to be here, why would we have them here? It’s about having the essential people who make this place tick.”

He also told listeners that he and House leader Jacob Rees-Mogg had considered introducing a rule forcing MPs to wear face masks in order to allow more members to be physically present at the same time.

Hoyle explained: “I can take the House down tomorrow to the one-metre rule. That would give us an extra 80 MPs in there, but the MPs would have to sit down when they speak with a mask on. In the debating chamber, that really wouldn’t work.

“One, I wouldn’t know who was behind the mask, and two, you wouldn’t hear what they’ve got to say. So myself and the Leader of the House have both agreed that is not a sensible approach.”

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