Opposition leader storms out of Parliament as tempers flare

Opposition Leader Hon Jamale Pringle
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By Elesha George

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Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Jamale Pringle, was not party to the hours-long session on Thursday after storming out of the Lower House.

“I don’t care what it is you all think in here, we were all elected equally,” he declared, moments after Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Gerald Watt QC, asked him to apologise or to leave, for what the speaker described as an “attack on the chair”.

Pringle’s exit was preceded by an earlier disagreement, when he rose to explain why he chose not to join the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) for Covid-19, during the ‘personal explanation’ portion of the proceedings.

The Leader of the Opposition said he wanted to defend himself against comments made by the member of City West, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who suggested that Pringle had avoided his responsibilities by refusing to participate in the ERC.

The speaker, however, appeared irate, after Pringle accused him of “misleading the public” by not allowing him to voice his statement, and concluded that since the statement was not made in Parliament, he could not therefore respond to it under ‘personal explanations’.

According to Sir Gerald, the statement was “not a proper topic for personal explanation”, citing that it was reserved for any change of decision in Parliament, party affiliation or similar procedural matters that the House needed to hear about. What it was not for, Sir Gerald said, was to register why Pringle had taken a political position.

Nevertheless, when Pringle rose for a second time to make his contribution towards the motion to extend the state of emergency, he again registered his displeasure with how the House Speaker was conducting “his rule” in Parliament by not allowing him to speak on the matter, when other members had been allowed to similarly so in the past.

“I realise that once something is being said that you are not in agreement with, you shut down the member, especially when you see that the person is going against the government, and Mr Speaker, if we are to do the people’s business that they elected us to do, you must sit and rule over this honourable house without fear or favour,” he told Sir Gerald.

That is when an even bigger argument ensued between the House Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition, who continued to argue that it was “right” for him to tell the nation why he chose not to participate in the ERC.

In an unpleasant exchange of words, Sir Gerald, who had now risen to his feet, announced to the Leader of the Opposition that he was “on thin ice” to which he responded, “Mr Speaker, I stand on the ground which the people of Antigua and Barbuda elected me on, don’t tell me about no thin ice, so crack the ice Mr Speaker, if that is what you want to do”.

After several more outbursts, Sir Gerald claimed that Pringle was in breach of “many of the Standing Orders”, saying “you have attacked not only the [City West] member, but you have attacked the House and you will apologise immediately”.

In response Pringle touted, “Mr Speaker, I maintain my ground and you can do whatever you choose to do but I’m elected by the people and I’m here to do the people’s business”.

While the majority of Facebook viewers surmised that the Leader of the Opposition had been too thin-skinned, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and chair of the Opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), D Gisele Isaac disagreed with Sir Gerald for his position on the matter.

She told listeners to Observer’s Voice of the People programme that Pringle was justified in his request because he wanted to speak on a matter that became a national subject.

Giving her interpretation of the parliamentary procedure, Isaac said that “things that happen personally in his capacity as an MP, those are the things he’s expected to bring to the House and he was shut down.

“Jamale Pringle as Leader of the Opposition had to go through the same process that everyone on the government bench went through. He is a Member of Parliament, he is a representative, it is a House of Representatives. How can you deny the man the chance to represent?” she stated.  

The general function of the ‘personal explanation’ standing order, according to the British and Australia parliament, is to deal with matters that occur outside the chamber or outside the proceedings of parliament for which leave is required to introduce such matters onto the record. Personal explanations may not be debated and are not the same as giving a member/senator a right to explain a misrepresentation that occurs in debate.

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