Diane Abbott: MP denied chance to speak during Commons race debate

  • By Sam Francis
  • Political Correspondent, BBC News

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WATCH: Abbott stood up to try to get the Speaker's attention 46 times

Diane Abbott has accused the Commons speaker of failing democracy by not allowing her to speak during a debate centered on comments about her.

Remarks by a Tory donor who allegedly told Mrs Abbott she should “hate all black women” dominated half an hour of Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

The MP tried to question the Prime Minister several times but was not selected.

A spokesman for the Speaker said he had “run out of time” to call Ms Abbott.

Rishi Sunak has repeatedly rejected calls from MPs to return £10m in Tory donations from Frank Hester, who said Ms Abbott “wanted to hate all black women” and “should be shot”.

The Prime Minister said Mr Hester's alleged comments were “wrong” and “racist” – but the businessman has since apologized and must “accept his remorse”.

Mrs Abbott was on the opposition benches during the weekly session, but did not get a chance despite stopping to catch the Speaker's eye at least 46 times.

In a later social media post, Mrs Abbott said Sir Lindsay Hoyle had failed both the Commons and the Democracy.

I don't know whose interests the Speaker is serving,” he added.

Writing in Guardian Later, Ms Abbott said of the Speaker: “He said there was not enough time after looking at what was listed in the order paper.

“But I don't believe—the truth is, he can invite anyone he wants.”

MPs enter the ballot box to ask questions in PMQs, considered the highlight of the parliamentary week. But the Speaker has the right to choose additional MPs who may rise or pop to indicate that they wish to put a question to the Prime Minister.

A spokesman for the Speaker said: “During Prime Minister's Questions, the Speaker must choose MPs from both sides in a fair manner.”

“This takes place within a limited time frame, with the Chair giving priority to members already listed on the order paper. This week – as is often the case – there is not enough time to call all members who wish to ask questions.”

Ahead of the debate, Ms Abbott said Mr Hester's comment that he should be “fired” was “appalling”.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer and SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn both raised Mr Hester's alleged comments to the Prime Minister.

After the debate, Mrs Abbott was seen shaking her head as she was not invited to speak.

Labor MP Charlotte Nicholls said the Speaker's decision was “very poor”.

In a social media post, Ms Nicholls said: “If Diane wants to talk, she should have been given the opportunity, rather than talking about it.”

During the debate, Stella Creasy – another Labor MP – posted on social media that “just in case something goes wrong”. [Ms Abbott’s] No voice today.”

A Labor spokesman echoed these views after the debate.

Ms Abbott has sat as an independent since April 2023, when she apologized for a letter to the Observer in which she wrote that the Irish, Jews and Travelers were not subjected to racism “for a lifetime”. He retracted his comments and apologized for “any hurt”.

After PMQs, Sir Keir and Mr Flynn approached Ms Abbott at the back of the room, followed by Labor backbenchers.

During the conversation, Mrs Abbott is said to have repeatedly asked Sir Keir to restore his party whip. He reportedly replied: “I understand.”

Ms Abbott – sitting as an independent MP after being suspended by Labor – previously called for “public support of Keir Starmer” in the wake of Mr Hester's comments.

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