Christopher Chope tells fellow Tory MP to 'apply her mind' in Commons sleaze bust-up

16 November 2021, 17:23 | Updated: 16 November 2021, 17:29

By James Morris

This is the moment controversial Tory Sir Christopher Chope told a fellow Conservative MP to “apply her mind” after she criticised him for forcing another debate on sleaze.

Alicia Kearns, rolling her eyes, sarcastically hit back at her colleague: “Yes, I am a woman.”

Today’s open row in the House of Commons highlighted the generational divisions which have emerged between Tory MPs following the Owen Paterson sleaze saga.

Mr Chope was first elected in 1983, while Ms Kearns is part of the 2019 intake.

Many newer Tory MPs are understood to be furious at the attitudes of some older-intake colleagues amid the saga around Mr Paterson, who was found to have broken lobbying rules.

That fury erupted once again last night as backbencher Mr Chope objected to a motion that would have accepted the standards committee’s findings on Mr Paterson. His objection forced another debate about the matter this afternoon.

While Mr Chope was speaking, Ms Kearns called for an intervention and said: “I recognise the member is keen to make sure this Parliament has its time to have its say, but we’ve had almost four-and-a-half hours of debate on this issue already [on Monday night].

Alicia Kearns after Sir Christoper Chope told her to 'apply her mind'.
Alicia Kearns after Sir Christoper Chope told her to 'apply her mind'. Picture:

“Do our constituents not deserve for us to focus on actually delivering those promises we made to them, and things that matter to them, rather than spending time here trying to deny things which would have had the same outcome no matter what?

“How much time does he want to give? Is it 10 hours, five hours, 15 hours? When will it be enough?”

Mr Chope responded: “Shall I express shock, or outrage at what [Ms Kearns] said? Clearly in the time to which she’s been referring, she hasn’t applied her mind to…”

This comment prompted heckles from other Tory MPs.

Rolling her eyes, Ms Kearns said: “Yes, I am a woman.”

Mr Chope has in the past been accused of misogyny and sexism, which he has denied.

He continued by saying the “principle issue” is “that the government encouraged everybody, including her probably, to vote for a motion on 3 November.”

This is a reference to Boris Johnson’s order to Tory MPs to vote for a motion which would have seen Mr Paterson avoid suspension and a new committee set up to look at the standards system.

Read more: Rees-Mogg backed Paterson in sleaze saga as he was 'punished enough' by wife's death

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Ms Kearns herself followed this order and voted with the government.

But following a vicious backlash, and opposition parties refusing to co-operate, the government made a U-turn, prompting Mr Paterson's resignation.

Mr Chope continued: “What happened on 4 November was that the government usurped [the Commons’] power and said to this House, basically, what you decided yesterday is no longer valid.

Owen Paterson, pictured in 2015, resigned as an MP two weeks ago.
Owen Paterson, pictured in 2015, resigned as an MP two weeks ago. Picture: Getty

“And that’s why this motion is so important, because we can’t pass motions and then rescind them without proper debate and that’s what I’m trying to concentrate on today.”

Ultimately, this afternoon’s debate lasted just 59 minutes and the motion was approved by MPs without a vote – meaning the report on Mr Paterson’s conduct was accepted.

Former prime minister Theresa May had been among the scathing MPs who laid into the government for its handling of the Paterson saga, saying: "Let's be clear this is not a party political issue. Damage has been done to all Members of Parliament and to Parliament as a whole."

In an attempt to stem the ongoing sleaze row, Mr Johnson later proposed banning MPs from acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists. Downing Street said he did so in recognition of the "strength of feeling" on the issue.