THE HAGUE, Netherlands–The entire Cabinet walked out of a critical debate in the Tweede Kamer after the leader of the far right Forum voor Democratie (FvD) party, Thierry Baudet, lashed out at Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag. The discussion on the upcoming year’s budget, considered the most important debate of the parliamentary year, was then adjourned. Baudet was not allowed to continue his planned remarks.
The Cabinet members left because of Baudet’s comments about Kaag’s education at the University of Oxford. He said the college where she studied was notorious as a spy school. Baudet’s speech was largely about conspiracies.
The FvD leader said that St. Anthony’s College at Oxford was “little more than, in fact, a training institution for Western secret services.” After Kaag reacted with indignation, Tweede Kamer chair Vera Bergkamp intervened and cautioned Baudet against making insinuations about the minister’s education background, and for spreading conspiracy theories during a parliamentary debate. When Baudet continued on a rant about Oxford, Kaag and the rest of the Cabinet made the unique decision to walk out of the room.
After a brief recess, only Rutte returned, saying that Baudet’s accusations against Kaag were “unacceptable.” The chair asked Baudet to take back his words. He refused to do so.
“It’s absurd what’s happening here,” he said.
Bergkamp then decided to cut off his microphone, a decision supported by a broad majority of MPs. However, there was criticism about the departure of the Cabinet.
It is not up to the Cabinet to determine what speech can and cannot be tolerated in the Tweede Kamer, said SGP member Kees van der Staaij. That is up to the chair, he added. The chair soon after called for a recess for dinner.
Outside of the plenary debate hall, Baudet told reporters he brought up the “fact” about Kaag as something that is “nice to know.” But he added that he wanted to expose “Marxism’s fusion with the deep state.” The deep state is part of a conspiracy theory about a secret group of unelected elite who covertly rule over Western countries.
About Baudet’s performance, Rutte said, “This crossed all boundaries.” The Cabinet’s only possible response was to walk away, he continued. After all, the ministers were guests in the Tweede Kamer for the marathon debate. “And there are limits to what we can accept as guests.”
Bergkamp did not made any mistakes, in Rutte’s opinion. It was the Cabinet that found it necessary to draw its own a line. “I think society understands that at some point a team stands as one man, as one woman for a colleague.”
The prime minister emphasized that ministers should not be so easily offended, saying it’s also difficult to push his buttons. Baudet’s comment was of a different order, according to the Prime Minister. The leader of FvD gave the impression that Kaag “had been on some spy training with all the implications that go with it.”
For the prime minister, that was “collectively the moment we said: this is over the line. We are making a statement by leaving the room.” Kaag first decided to walk away herself, after which fellow ministers “looked at each other and said: we won’t let her go alone.”
It is unique for the entire Cabinet to leave a debate during a speech by a party leader. The debate about next year’s budget was passionate and heated up until Baudet’s contribution, but was mainly calm.
After the dinner recess, another 13 Tweede Kamer members were still scheduled to speak. Baudet spoke earlier in the evening at his request as his wife is due to give birth.