British lawmakers erupted in fury on Wednesday after opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused by Conservatives of calling Theresa May a “stupid woman,” amid continuing political deadlock on Brexit.
The Labour leader appeared to mouth an insult after the Prime Minister compared his calling of a symbolic no-confidence vote in her earlier this week to Christmas “pantomime.”
“I know it’s the Christmas season and the pantomime season. He’s going to put a confidence vote, oh yes he is, oh no he isn’t,” May jeered.
“I’ve got some advice. Look behind you! They are not impressed and neither is the country.”
Corbyn’s reaction brought condemnation from lawmakers who urged him to either “apologize or clarify” as to what he had mouthed.
In the House of Commons later, the Labour leader insisted that he had not called May a “stupid woman.”
“During Prime Minister’s Question Time today, 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,’” he told the Commons.
“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.”
The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, said he examined footage of the incident and couldn’t be certain what was said.
“Having heard the allegation against the leader of the opposition and having watched the footage it is easy to see why the leader of the opposition’s words might be construed as ‘stupid woman,’” Bercow said.
“I am not a lip reader, or indeed a lip speaker. Nobody can be 100% certain – that includes professional lip readers – but I will naturally take, and would be expected to take, the word of any member. It is reasonable to expect the House to do the same.”
The Leader of the Commons, Conservative Andrea Leadsom, said that she “deeply” regretted that Corbyn had not apologized to May.
“I think that the country and this house would have drawn their own conclusions,” Leadsom said.
Earlier May responded in parliament to Corbyn shortly after the heated exchange, telling the Commons that lawmakers “should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber.”
“I think that everybody in this House, particularly in its 100th year, the anniversary of women getting the vote, should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber and to stand in this chamber, and should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when they are referring to female members,” May said.