Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has denied calling Theresa May a “stupid woman” during Prime Minister’s Questions after facing calls to apologise.
He told MPs he had said “stupid people” and that he was “opposed to the use of sexist and misogynist language in any form”.
Commons Speaker John Bercow said he had not seen the alleged incidents and all MPs had to be taken at their word.
But Tory MPs said they did not believe Mr Corbyn and said he must apologise.
Mr Corbyn told the Commons: “During Prime Minister’s question time today, 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’.
“Mr Speaker 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.
“I’m happy to place that on the record at your request this afternoon.”
Tory MP Rachel Maclean responded to his statement by saying: “Read my lips – I don’t believe him.”
Mr Bercow was separately accused by Tory MP Vicky Ford of calling her a “stupid woman” on an earlier occasion, something immediately denied by Mr Bercow.
The Speaker said he had reviewed television footage of Mr Corbyn’s alleged insult and it was “easy to see why the leader of the opposition’s words might be construed as ‘stupid woman’.”
He had also consulted a “lip speaker”, who are employed to interpret lip movements in court rooms and other settings when a lip reader can’t get close enough, who had lent weight to that view but had not been conclusive.
“Nobody can be 100% certain, that includes professional lip readers. But 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.”
He added that Mr Corbyn had been “seated at the time and not addressing the House” so his words had not been “on the record”.
Mr Corbyn had clashed with the prime minister over her Brexit deal, calling her decision last week to delay a vote on it a “deeply cynical manoeuvre” from a “failing” prime minister.
Mrs May hit back at Mr Corbyn, saying he had not tabled his promised no-confidence motion, and had then tabled one that was ineffective.
“I know it’s the… pantomime season,” she told MPs, “is he going to put a confidence vote? Oh yes he is,” she said, prompting backbench Tories MPs to chant “oh no he isn’t”.
Continuing the pantomime theme, she told the Labour leader “look behind you – they are not impressed and neither is the country”.
Mr Corbyn could be seen saying something under his breath in response.
Asked about what he had allegedly said by Tory MP Paul Scully, Mrs May said “I think that everybody in this House,” particularly on the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, should be encouraging women to get involved in politics and “should use appropriate language”.
Former minister Sir Patrick McLoughlin used a point of order to accuse Mr Corbyn of having “muttered” that Theresa May was a “stupid woman”.
Cries of “shame” and “disgraceful” were heard from the Tory benches at this point.
Sir Patrick added: “Would it not be appropriate for him to come back into this chamber and apologise?”
The row continued after Prime Minister’s Questions, with a string of female Conservative MPs joining in with calls for an apology.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom turned on the Speaker himself, reminding Mr Bercow of his failure to apologise to her for calling her a “stupid woman” during an incident earlier this year.
Mr Bercow said he had already dealt with that matter.
Former minister Anna Soubry suggested Mr Bercow would be more inclined to take action if the words had been uttered by a Conservative frontbencher at a female Labour MP.
Veteran Labour MP Margaret Beckett suggested the accusations were party political:
Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse said: “Sexism in any work place is not acceptable and it is time Jeremy Corbyn left the 1980s behind.
“Young women from up and down the country will have watched this exchange today and it is no surprise so many of them are put off participating in politics. If the allegations are true, Jeremy Corbyn must apologise.” BBC News