Disgraced MP Rob Roberts should resign or be recalled, Tories told
The Tories are facing pressure to make Rob Roberts resign, or to close a “loophole” preventing his constituents from forcing a by-election after he breached parliament’s sexual misconduct policy.
Conservative backbencher Rob Roberts, 41, was stripped of the whip on Tuesday (25 May) after he was found to have made unwanted sexual advances towards a male staffer. He rejects the categorisation of his actions as “sexual”, instead deeming them “romantic” – but admits acting inappropriately.
He now faces a possible six week suspension for breaching parliament’s sexual misconduct policy (if the punishment is supported by MPs), but can remain an MP by “exploiting” a legislative loophole that prevents his constituents forcing a by-election.
“In most lines of work, this kind of behaviour would lead to being sacked summarily,” Chris Bryant, Labour MP and chairman of the commons standards committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today show.
“It seems extraordinary that voters won’t have an opportunity to take a view on that until the next general election in the Delyn constituency.
“And actually, if I were Mr Roberts, I would not want to be exploiting a loophole in this way simply to stay in Parliament.”
The 2015 Recall of Parliament Act only allows the prospect of a by-election for sanctions imposed on the recommendation of the Commons Standards Committee.
But because Roberts appealed one of the committee’s findings against him, his case was referred to parliament’s independent expert panel (IEP), meaning that the formal recall process cannot be triggered.
Bryant explained: “Our committee does not hear allegations of bullying and sexual harassment. That is only done by the IEP and unfortunately up until now the government has not changed the law so as to include decisions from the IEP for triggering the act.
“That’s a glaring omission. It’s a preposterous situation and the government should change it as fast as possible.”
Cabinet minister Grants Schapps also appeared on the Today show, and agreed with Bryant.
“Although it’s a decision for the House of Commons, I rather agree that this loophole does need to be closed,” the transport secretary said.
“This has gone through a new independent process and doesn’t have the same rules about the so-called recall process which is where constituents can essentially call for an election.”
Rob Roberts apologised for his actions and admitted the “breach of trust” was “completely improper and should not have happened,” Sky News reported.
“I apologised at the time and do so again to the complainant but also to my colleagues, family and most importantly my constituents,” he added.
However, the MP rejected the categorisation of his conduct as “sexual”, preferring the term “romantic”. He has made no moves to step down or offer his constituents a say on whether he should continue representing them.
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Labour’s chairwoman Anneliese Dodds pressed for emergency legislation to address the recall issue.
“The report fully upholds the sexual harassment allegations made against Rob Roberts MP. He should therefore resign his seat with immediate effect,” she said.
“That such serious and proven abuse doesn’t automatically result in the recall of a sitting member of parliament is both absurd and unjust.”
Downing Street appeared to distance itself from the disgraced MP, with the prime minister’s spokesperson saying: “The government is now considering next steps and will update shortly.”
They added that commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg was “committed” to bringing forward a motion on the suspension.
Asked about the loophole stopping constituents from forcing a by-election, the spokesperson said: “We are considering next steps and will update shortly.”
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