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Simon Carr

The Sketch: Chris Bryant's J’Accuse moment


Sensational scenes in the House! Chamber-wide shouting, localised growling, some howling, double-handed pointing from Francis Maude, Ivan Lewis playing pat-a-cake with piles of documents, the Speaker adding to his hate crimes against the Tories, Anna Soubry white with anger, Michael Gove Churchillian in facial pomp, Chris Bryant overplaying his hand and probably spoiling the parliamentary case against Hunt.

“He has lied to Parliament,” he said, to Tory shock. It was Bryant’s J’Accuse moment. He’s playing one-up with Tom Watson for headline chasing.

You can’t call people liars in the House of Commons. There was a small, polite riot. Mark Francois’ face bulged like a boil. One or two jaws actually fell open. George Osborne looked as though he for one wouldn’t forget this.

In the previous quarter hour, Bercow’s chairmanship of the Commons had returned to long-run form. He’d loftily swatted Anna Soubry and her “two years in the House”; he had chastised Michael Gove for 88 words for a two-word heckle. And as he did you could see the realisation settling in the Tory benches that the Speaker really doesn’t like them.

Allowing this most forbidden word to be used is, whatever the defence, an act of war.

Sir George Young cantilevered himself up to the dispatch box. “I’m not sure whether everyone heard correctly the allegation,” he said gently. “Lying to parliament . . . is in parliamentary language and should be withdrawn.” That is indeed everyone’s understanding. “With great respect to your office,” Jeremy Hunt quavered, “there is a huge difference between . . . etc”.

The Speaker, rattled, fell to bluster. “”There is a Motion. That Motion is being debated. I will be the arbiter of order, and I know he will leave that to me.”

The Clerk’s “media office” (what the Clerk is doing with a media office is anyone’s guess) says it’s in order – but for no obviously good reason. If your name appears in a Motion people can call you a liar, it was explained to me. Happens quite often. When? And where’s it written down? Er, I’ll get back to you.”

It's a rotten ruling, and if anyone other than the Speaker's pet had tried to get away with it they would have been slapped silly.

If the Speaker is ousted at the beginning of the next Parliament, yesterday’s events will feature in every report of his fall.