A senior minister today accused Commons Speaker John Bercow of being “sexist” — piling pressure on him to stand down.
Business minister Claire Perry alleged Mr Bercow had a “woman problem” after an exchange between them as she took questions at the despatch box.
Ms Perry made the comments in a letter to him following the heated exchange yesterday, where Mr Bercow accused Ms Perry of being long-winded and made a reference to her being “dilated”.
In response to Ms Perry’s letter, Mr Bercow suggested the pair met for a cup of tea.
He wrote: “While, respectfully, I do not accept the points made, perhaps it would be nice to meet for a ‘clear the air’ cup of tea as soon as possible?”
During the exchange as she tooks questions at the despatch box on Tuesday, Mr Bercow said: “Minister, please resume your seat. I am most grateful to you, but I am afraid dilation is not in order today.”
In her letter seen by The Sun newspaper, Ms Perry said: “Personally, over the years I have grown used to your occasional irascible outburst directed at me when I am at the Despatch Box, presuming it is part of the rough and tumble of Government, although it is never enjoyable and is not a tactic used by any other occupant of the Chair. However, during BEIS oral questions, you used a tone and language to admonish me for giving over-long answers that seemed both overly aggressive and particularly sexist.
“Your comments about me being ‘dilated’ have especially caused comment — of course you may have misspoken, hence my attempt to lighten the mood with a reference to the last time I was dilated, but this only provoked a further outburst of anger.”
The letter increases the pressure on the Speaker after weeks of allegations of bullying and mistreatment of staff.
Last month he allegedly called the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, a “stupid woman”. Ms Perry told him: “A pattern is emerging where you are finding it increasingly hard to interact respectfully with female MPs on the Government benches.” She said: “At a time when we are dealing with an endemic problem of bullying and violence — both physical and verbal — against women in the UK and elsewhere, it is not acceptable to have a presiding officer of our precious House of Commons who appears to have a ‘woman problem’.”
Earlier today a senior official claimed the Speaker was being subjected to a “witch-hunt” by disgruntled former staff. Serjeant-at-Arms Kamal El-Hajji said the bullying claims aimed at the Speaker had arisen from those “trying to settle old scores”. A committee of MPs and lay members last month blocked an inquiry into Mr Bercow by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.