The controversy surrounding Gerry Adams attempts to leave the House of Commons took a new twist yesterday when the Prime Minister became involved.
Adams had written to the Speaker to resign his seat, but parliamentary officials quoted ancient rules stating that MPs simply cannot resign. Instead they are supposed to apply for a position of profit under the crown, which automatically disqualifies them from being a member of the House of Commons.
But, as an Irish Republican, Adams refused to acknowledge the 1624 rule and insisted that he had resigned.
The letter Adams submitted said, “A chara, I hereby resign as MP for the constituency of west Belfast. Go raibh maith agat. Gerry Adams”.
David Cameron was asked about the situation at Prime Minister’s Questions, and in his reply he stated that, “the honourable member for West Belfast has accepted an office for profit under the crown, which of course is the only way you can retire from this house.”
Adams insists the prime minister had misrepresented his position, and that he has neither applied for, nor accepted, the post of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – the ceremonial office that would mean he could no longer be an MP.
In a statement, Adams explained further. “I simply resigned. I was not consulted nor was I asked to accept such an office. I am an Irish republican. I have had no truck whatsoever with these antiquated and quite bizarre aspects of the British parliamentary system.”
And the Sinn Fein leader went on to say, “I have spoken to the prime minister’s private secretary today and he has apologised for today’s events.”
Now that would seem to be an acknowledgement that the Prime Minister got it wrong. And in that situation he would surely be expected to apologise to the House of Commons for his misleading statement.
But late last night Speaker John Bercow told the House of Commons, “I have received formal notification from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Gerard Adams has been appointed to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.”
So the official line now seems to be that Adams has been appointed to a post he didn’t apply for and wouldn’t accept if it was offered to him!
As often happens, we have a choice between conspiracy and cock up theories to explain these bizarre events. Either Cameron and co are working to embarrass Adams by forcing him to be an employee of the crown, or those involved simply don’t know what they are doing.
There have been many aspects of Gerry Adams time as MP for West Belfast that have proven to be uncomfortable for British governments. But the manner of his leaving the House of Commons could turn out to be the biggest embarrassment of them all.