Jeremy Corbyn has sparked absolute fury in the British parliament after appearing to dismiss Theresa May as a “stupid woman” during their weekly prime minister's questions session in the Palace of Westminster.
The leader of the opposition took up his usual position in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon to grill the prime minister about the latest developments in the ongoing and worsening Brexit debacle.
But it's the final few seconds of their exchanges which have made headlines this week as, after May mocked him for lacking the confidence of his party, he appeared to mutter “stupid woman” under his breath.
Corbyn later insisted he said “stupid people” but lawmakers from May's Conservative party were unconvinced, and lined up to accuse the Labour leader of using sexist language against the prime minister.
The session was held a day before the parliament breaks up for Christmas and had a distinct end-of-semester feel. During her final response to Corbyn, May said: “I've got some advice for the right honorable gentlemen: look behind you! They're not impressed and neither is the country.”
‘Look behind you’ is a common catchphrase in British pantomimes: the traditional camp festive theatre shows which Brits attend in their droves every December. Corbyn's comment appeared to be in direct response to May's attempt to inject some yuletide fun into the exchange.
The clip of Corbyn muttering went viral on British political Twitter and parliamentarians inside the building, clearly more interested in their phones than in the proceedings, picked up on it as the session was ongoing.
Conservative lawmaker Paul Scully took to his feet with Corbyn and May still in attendance and said: “This year, when we've been celebrating 100 years since women got the vote, do you think it's appropriate language to call people ‘a stupid woman’ in this chamber?”
Those sitting behind May informed her of what he was talking about and she responded: “Everybody in this house, particularly in this 100th year... 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're referring to female members.”
Corbyn rushed out of the House of Commons as soon as the session ended but lawmakers stayed around and angrily demanded that he came back and apologize for what he appeared to say to the prime minister.
Veteran Conservative lawmaker Sir Patrick McLoughlin repeated Corbyn's apparent comments to cries of “shocking” and “disgraceful” from his colleagues and called on Corbyn to explain his comment.
Speaker John Bercow, who chairs debates in the House of Commons, said after reviewing the footage that “nobody can be 100 percent certain” about what Corbyn said, adding that he's consulted professional lipreaders.
But Bercow himself has been accused of sexist bullying—indeed, he's accused of using the exact same “stupid woman” phrase himself—so dismissal of the matter provoked even more fury.
The lawmaker who Bercow is accused of disparaging in the past, Andrea Leadsom, took to her feet after Bercow's ruling to ask why he's had a sudden change of heart on sexist language.
“After you finding there that individuals who are found to have made unwelcome remarks should apologize, why it is that when an opposition member found that you called me a stupid woman you did not apologize to me in this chamber?” asked Leadson.
Her colleague Anna Soubry MP added: “Please would you deal with it... in a fair way but also from the point of view of women in this house who are fed up over decades of being abused by men.”
Corbyn was recalled the the House of Commons a few hours after prime minister's questions to explain himself. He said: “During prime minister's question time today I referred to those who I believed were seeking to turn the debate about the national crisis facing our country into a pantomime as ‘stupid people.’”
He went on: “I did not use the words ‘stupid woman’ about the prime minister or anyone else and am completely opposed to the use of sexist of misogynist language in absolutely any situation at all.”
But Conservatives still insist he's just trying to cover his tracks.