Change ‘absurd’ rules so MPs can accuse each other of lying, says John Bercow

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Former House of Commons speaker John Bercow has defended the backbench Labour MP who was kicked out of the chamber for calling Boris Johnson a liar.

Mr Bercow said Dawn Butler was entitled to claim the prime minister had lied – calling for “absurd” parliamentary rules to be changed so MPs can accuse one another of lying in the chamber.

Ms Butler was told to leave the Commons for one day last week after she refused to withdraw her claim that Mr Johnson had “lied to the House and the country over and over again”.

In an article written jointly with the Labour backbencher, Mr Bercow wrote: “The glaring weakness of the system is that someone lying to tens of millions of citizens knows he or she is protected by an ancient rule.”

They told The Times: “They face no sanction. By contrast, an MP with the guts to tell the truth is judged to be in disgrace. It is absurd.”

Sir Keir Starmer has said he supported and “agreed” with Labour MP Dawn Butler when she said Mr Johnson had repeatedly lied to the country.

“I agree with what Dawn had to say – I think the prime minister is the master of untruth and half truths,” Sir Keir told LBC on Monday. “Dawn was simply giving some examples of that.”

Expressing his sympathy with the Labour MP, Sir Keir suggested that it was unfair she had been sanctioned for saying the prime minister had lied.

But the Labour leader also said it was “right” for the backbencher to have been ordered to leave the House of Commons for a day for breaking parliamentary etiquette.

Ms Butler was ordered to leave the House after refusing twice to take back her remarks, since it breaks current parliamentary etiquette to call another member a liar.

She highlighted disputed claims made by Mr Johnson – referring to his statements on economic growth, NHS spending and nurses’ bursaries, before adding: “It’s dangerous to lie in a pandemic.”

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As explained on the UK parliament website, such language “breaks the rules of politeness in the House of Commons chamber” and can lead to a member being asked to withdraw what was said or leave.

In a chamber where MPs must refer to each other as the “honourable member”, accusations of deliberate deceit and dishonesty are forbidden.

Many left-wing commentators and Labour MPs, including the party’s deputy leader, threw their support behind Ms Butler after the incident. “Just to confirm, Boris Johnson is a liar regardless of who calls him a liar or where they call him a liar,” Angela Rayner said.

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