Brexit

Corbyn forced deny calling PM 'stupid woman'

Jo Churchill MP urging Commons Speaker John Bercow to look at a video clip of Jeremy Corbyn on a mobile phone as, from left,Education Secretary Damian Hinds, Andrew Stephenson MP, Mike Freer MP and Health Secretary Matt Hancock look on PICTURE: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA

JEREMY Corbyn was forced to deny calling Theresa May a "stupid woman" as the final prime minister's questions of the year sparked a heated row over misogyny.

Television cameras picked up the Labour leader saying something to those sat with him after the prime minister likened his attempt to force a confidence vote in her to a Christmas pantomime.

The video footage went viral on social media yesterday afternoon and sparked a furious debate in the Commons, with Tory MPs demanding Mr Corbyn be brought back to apologise.

After being asked to come back and address MPs he flatly denied using the sexist phrase, telling MPs: "I referred to those who I believe were seeking to turn a debate about the national crisis facing our country into a pantomime as 'stupid people'.

"I did not use the words 'stupid woman' about the prime minister or anyone else, and am completely opposed to the use of sexist or misogynist language in absolutely any form at all."

Mrs May had suggested Mr Corbyn apologise if he had indeed used "inappropriate language" as the row overshadowed a heated PMQs that focused on the ongoing Brexit impasse.

Speaking on a subsequent visit to Heathrow Airport, the prime minister said that with 2018 marking the centenary of women getting the vote she wanted "to see more women encouraged to come into Parliament and not put off by the sort of remarks that they might feel have been said in Parliament".

"The speaker made very clear that if a member of Parliament uses inappropriate language then they should apologise," Mrs May.

The almost immediate circulation of footage of Mr Corbyn prompted uproar in the Commons, with shouting and heckling as a succession of MPs demanded action from speaker John Bercow.

But he triggered a furious response from a slew of female MPs, including Commons leader Andrea Leadsom after refusing to take immediate action because he had not seen the incident.

Mr Corbyn had already left the Commons chamber by the time the points of order were raised and his spokesman later said he had not said anything that required an apology.

The speaker later returned and told MPs that while it was "easy to see" why Mr Corbyn's words might have been construed as "stupid woman", "nobody can be 100 per cent certain, that includes professional lipreaders."

"I will naturally take and would be expected to take, the word of any right honourable or honourable member. It's reasonable to expect the House to do the same."

Before Mr Corbyn's statement, Conservative MPs had been quick to attack him, with party chairman Brandon Lewis urging him to either "apologise or clarify".

Deputy Tory chairman James Cleverly said on Twitter that "this kind of misogynistic language must not be tolerated", and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: "The mask slips. Jeremy Corbyn's abuse of the prime minister shows what a reactionary misogynist he is."

Mr Corbyn also faced criticism from his own backbenches, with Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, who has talked publicly about misogynist abuse she has faced on social media, saying: "This is not OK.

"PMQs is a hotbed of emotions but I hope that Jeremy will accept this kind of behaviour isn't his normal good nature or what we expect of progressive men."

The Labour leader's spokesman said afterwards that Mr Corbyn had said "stupid people", referring generally to MPs who were not taking the issues being debated seriously.

He said he had confirmed the word spoken with the Labour leader personally, adding: "He did not call her a stupid woman and so I don't think there's any basis for an apology."

The footage also prompted the bizarre spectacle of former West Wing star Rob Lowe weighing in on Twitter to give his opinion.

There were audible cries of "shame" and "disgraceful" as Tory former minister Sir Patrick McLoughlin used a point of order during PMQs to suggest Mr Corbyn should "come back into this chamber and apologise".

Mr Bercow, who hit the headlines in May himself after being accused of calling Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom a "stupid woman", told MPs that any MP who failed to follow House conventions on conduct had a responsibility to apologise.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has been urged to back a motion of no confidence in the government tabled by the smaller opposition parties at Westminster.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Labour leader's refusal to table his own motion aimed at bringing down the Government was an "excuse" to avoid having to clarify his own position on Brexit policy.

The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens tabled a vote of no confidence in the UK Government following a meeting on Tuesday evening.

They said the decision follows constant pressure on Mr Corbyn to table a motion of no confidence in the UK Government under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which he has not done.

Ms Sturgeon said: "It's beyond me why Jeremy Corbyn seems to be one of the last remaining people that still has confidence in this Tory Government."

Speaking to reporters in Downing Street following a meeting with Theresa May, Ms Sturgeon said the cross-party motion offered the opportunity to "get rid of this sorry, incompetent, Tory government".

She added "If it doesn't pass, it removes Jeremy Corbyn's excuse for not making up his mind on a second EU referendum.

"It looks to me right now as if he is trying to run the clock down and avoid difficult decisions just as much as the Prime Minister is.

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