Jeremy Corbyn was forced to deny calling Theresa May a “stupid woman” as the final Prime Minister’s Questions of the year sparked a heated row over misogyny.
Television cameras picked up the Labour leader saying something to those sat with him after the Prime Minister likened his attempt to force a confidence vote in her to a Christmas pantomime.
The video footage went viral on social media on Wednesday afternoon and sparked a furious debate in the Commons, with Tory MPs demanding Mr Corbyn be brought back to apologise.
After being asked to come back and address MPs he flatly denied using the sexist phrase, telling MPs: “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’.”
“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.”
Mrs May had suggested Mr Corbyn apologise if he had indeed used “inappropriate language” as the row overshadowed a heated PMQs that focused on the ongoing Brexit impasse.
Speaking on a subsequent visit to Heathrow Airport, the Prime Minister said that with 2018 marking the centenary of women getting the vote she wanted “to see more women encouraged to come into Parliament and not put off by the sort of remarks that they might feel have been said in Parliament”.
She added: “The Speaker made very clear that if a Member of Parliament uses inappropriate language then they should apologise.”
The almost immediate circulation of footage of Mr Corbyn prompted uproar in the Commons, with shouting and heckling as a succession of MPs demanded action from Speaker John Bercow.
But he triggered a furious response from a slew of female MPs, including Commons leader Andrea Leadsom after refusing to take immediate action because he had not seen the incident.
Mr Corbyn had already left the Commons chamber by the time the points of order were raised and his spokesman later said he had not said anything that required an apology.
The Speaker later returned and told MPs that while it was “easy to see” why Mr Corbyn’s words might have been construed as “stupid woman”, “nobody can be 100% certain, that includes professional lipreaders.”
He added: “I will naturally take and would be expected to take, the word of any right honourable or honourable member. It’s reasonable to expect the House to do the same.”