LONDON - British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn faced calls to apologise on Wednesday after being accused of muttering "stupid woman" at Prime Minister Theresa May during a heated exchange over her delaying tactics on Brexit.
But a spokesman for the Labour leader denied he used the phrase, which sparked uproar among ruling Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, insisting he had said "stupid people".
Mr Corbyn mouthed the words after clashing with Mrs May over her decision to delay until January a Commons vote on her unpopular Brexit deal - just weeks before Britain leaves the EU on March 29.
London and Brussels this week stepped up planning for a "no deal" scenario, and Mr Corbyn warned during prime minister's questions on Wednesday that this would be "a disaster for our country".
He said that by delaying a vote by MPs, mrs May was "recklessly running down the clock, all in a shameful attempt to make her own bad deal look like the lesser of two evils".
Mrs May hit back by mocking Mr Corbyn's position on Brexit and describing as a pantomime his failure to call a vote of confidence in her government despite demands from his own MPs.
Footage of the "stupid" comment quickly went viral on social media, watched by MPs on their phones as they sat in the Commons chamber - and one of them asked Mrs May what she thought.
"Everybody in this House, particularly in this 100th year of women getting the vote, should be encouraging women to come into this chamber and to stand in this chamber and should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when they are referring to female members," she said.
Several Conservative MPs said the alleged comment was a reflection of abusive language faced by many female politicians and a culture of bullying in parliament that has become a focus for concern.
Some female Labour MPs also weighed in, with Stella Creasy tweeting: "This is not ok."
But Mr Corbyn's spokesman said: "He's clear that he did not say stupid woman and has no time for any kind of misogynistic abuse."
He said the "stupid people" remark was a response to "the attempt to belittle what is being discussed" on Brexit, adding: "This is a national crisis."
Commons Speaker John Bercow said he did not see the incident himself but, if true, Mr Corbyn would have to apologise in front of parliament.
In chaotic scenes, however, Mr Bercow - who has himself been accusing of bullying and using abusive language - was shouted down as Conservative MPs rallied to Mrs May's defence.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, a government minister, even stood up to ask Mr Bercow why he had not apologised for allegedly calling her a "stupid woman" earlier this year.
Mr Bercow replied that the issue had been resolved at the time. He had admitted muttering "stupid" in an argument about scheduling of Commons business.