The Conservative MP Rob Roberts, who was found to have sexually harassed a member of staff, has been suspended from the House of Commons for six weeks as the Commons leader stepped up the pressure on him by saying it would be “honourable” for him to resign.
An independent panel found that Roberts had made repeated and unwanted sexual advances towards a former member of staff, as well as inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.
The MP for Delyn in north Wales has been stripped of the Tory whip after the panel’s findings, published on Tuesday, and Labour had already called on him to step down immediately. His six-week suspension was confirmed on Thursday.
However, the punishment will not trigger a potential recall, under which Roberts’ constituents could remove him as an MP, because of a loophole in the Recall of MPs Act 2015.
Opening the weekly business questions session in parliament on Thursday, the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced he would open a discussion about whether the loophole could be closed for future cases.
He 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 independence, protecting the confidentiality of complaints, and ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case.”
He said he would ask the chair of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), Sir Stephen Irwin, whether he thought the recall process should be triggered in future, similar cases – and that he hoped changes could be made without new legislation.
The Labour MP Jess Phillips, who has supported several previous complainants in Westminster sexual harassment cases, said all of them she had spoken to believed the recall process should apply to Roberts’ case.
Roberts was reported by a former staff member who worked for him briefly in 2020, months after he was first elected in 2019.
The person, who wishes to remain anonymous, told BBC Wales they were alone in a car together on a constituency visit when Roberts allegedly said: “I find you very attractive and alluring and I need you to make attempts to be less alluring in the office because it’s becoming very difficult for me.” Roberts told the panel his intention had been “romantic”, not “sexual”.
Rees-Mogg said the original justification for not allowing cases judged by the IEP to trigger a recall was that the confidentiality of complainants could be put at risk during the six-week recall campaign, when constituents can sign a petition. If 10% of them do so, a byelection is triggered.
The process was used to remove Fiona Onasanya as the Labour MP for Peterborough after she was found guilty of a driving offence.