The Speaker of Britain's House of Commons, John Bercow, was under pressure today for allegedly calling a senior minister a "stupid woman", in the latest bullying claim to hit parliament's top official.
After the story broke in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Bercow's spokeswoman admitted "some strong and differing views were expressed on all sides" during a discussion about the government's legislative programme.
But she insisted: "The speaker treats his colleagues with respect." Bercow was already facing calls to resign after two of his former private secretaries, Angus Sinclair and Kate Ems, accused him of bullying -- allegations he strongly denied.
Downing Street described those claims as "concerning" and her spokeswoman said today of the remarks against Leadsom: "Clearly the prime minister thinks they are unacceptable." She said that if an official complaint were made, it should be "properly investigated".
The claims come just weeks after the Commons established an independent inquiry into the bullying of staff in parliament, amid concerns that victims have nowhere to turn to.
Asked if she had confidence in his leadership, May's spokeswoman said: "The speaker is elected by MPs, so questions of confidence are for parliament."
The speaker is the highest office in the Commons, who presides over debates with his bellowing cry "Order! Order!" and has the power to decide which MPs speak and when and how debates are held.
Bercow was a member of May's Conservative party, but gave up his affiliation on his election in June 2009, as the role requires political neutrality.
Many Tories accuse him of favouring the main opposition Labour party, and he clashed repeatedly with former Conservative prime minister David Cameron, whose government sought unsuccessfully to unseat him.
Last year he sparked controversy by speaking out against the idea that US President Donald Trump might address parliament during a state visit to Britain. When he took office, Bercow said he would only serve for nine years -- and critics are holding him to this promise, which would see him step down in June.
But when questioned on this pledge earlier this month, the speaker signalled his intention to carry on.
Bercow noted that he had been unanimously re-elected by MPs after the election in June last year, which could theoretically see him serve until the next planned vote in 2022.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)