Commons Leader Calls for Suspended Sex Pest MP to Quit

Official portrait of Rob Roberts MP. Rob Roberts is the Conservative MP for Delyn, and has been an MP continuously since 12 December 2019.
UK Parliament

The leader of the House of Commons has called for Rob Roberts to resign after the disgraced MP was found to have sexually harassed young male and female parliamentary staff.

The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) had ruled on Tuesday that Roberts, formerly of the Conservative party before having the whip temporarily removed, had made unwanted and repeated advances towards a male staffer and made inappropriate remarks towards a 21-year-old female intern, at one point sending late-night texts asking her if she wanted to “fool around” with him.

On Thursday, the House of Commons voted to suspend the MP for Delyn in north Wales for six weeks. However, despite the suspension being for longer than ten days, the punishment will not trigger a constituency recall vote, which could result in a by-election, according to The Times.

A loophole in the 2015 Recall of Parliament Act means the process could only be initiated following a ruling by the Commons Committee on Standards. Parliament’s IEP is a separate body established last year to handle complaints against MPs related to bullying, sexual misconduct, or harassment.

On Wednesday, before the MP was temporarily barred from Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected calls for fresh sanctions to be levelled against Roberts, claiming the 41-year-old had already received “condign punishment” by being suspended from the Tory Party.

However, addressing the lower chamber of Parliament on Thursday, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, as leader of the House of Commons, is responsible for organising government business, said it would be “honourable” for Roberts to resign.

Rees-Mogg said: “Following a case of this severity in which it would be honourable for a member to stand down after the withdrawal of the whip, we need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between the defendants, protecting the confidentiality of the complainants, and in ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case.

“I can therefore confirm to the House that I have asked the chairman of the independent expert panel for his views on whether changes should be made to the current process to enable recall to be triggered.

“In my view, any changes in this regard should be made in the most straightforward way possible and my preference would therefore be for a non-legislative solution.”

“It is frankly ridiculous that we have a higher sanction for somebody who uses a few envelopes incorrectly than for somebody who is involved in sexual misconduct,” the MP for North East Somerset said.

Labour MP Chris Bryant responded to Rees-Mogg’s statement, saying: “I stand ready to assist in amending Standing Orders to enable the Recall of MPs Act 2015 to be triggered by a ten day or more suspension from the House by the Independent Expert Panel. I agree the Member should stand down.”

It is unclear whether the Tories would hold the Delyn seat, given Roberts won by just 865 in December 2019. On the other hand, the Conservatives are presently riding high in the polls and recently won a by-election in a formerly safe Labour seat.

In May 2019, Labour’s Fiona Onasanya was the first MP to be ousted following a recall petition, which requires the support of at least 10 per cent of a constituency’s eligible voters, after she had the whip removed and was suspended from parliament following her conviction and imprisonment for lying about a speeding ticket.

Conservative MP Christopher Davies was subject to a recall petition the following month after having been found to have submitted fake expenses invoices.

There was also an attempt to recall Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley Jnr after he was suspended for 30 days from the House in 2018 because he had not declared holidays paid for by Sri Lanka’s government. The petition, the first attempt to oust an MP using the Recall Act, failed with fewer than 10 per cent of voters in North Antrim, Northern Ireland asking for recall.

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