Tory MP Rob Roberts faces six-week suspension for sexual misconduct

25 May 2021, 15:22 | Updated: 25 May 2021, 15:29

Rob Roberts made repeated unwanted sexual advances to a staff member
Rob Roberts made repeated unwanted sexual advances to a staff member. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A Conservative MP who made repeated unwanted sexual advances to a staff member faces being suspended from the Commons for six weeks.

Rob Roberts was stripped of the Tory whip after a complaints panel found he abused his position of authority and broke Parliament's sexual misconduct policy.

The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) found the Delyn MP made repeated and unwanted advances towards the man, although the MP insisted his actions were "romantic" rather than sexual.

The suspension will only be imposed if it is approved by MPs and a loophole means Mr Roberts may escape the prospect of his constituents forcing a by-election despite the punishment.

Sir Stephen Irwin, chairman of the IEP, said: "The misconduct demonstrated here was significant.

"It is evident that Mr Roberts MP was in a very powerful position as an employer in relation to the reporter.

"Our conclusion is that the determination of six weeks' suspension from the service of the House was proper and proportionate."

Mr Roberts said in a statement: "In the first half of 2020, I was in a particularly challenging place personally and had taken the decision to leave my marriage of 15 years and come out as being gay.

"At around the same time, I asked a male member of Parliamentary staff to dinner in the hope of striking up a personal relationship. I recognise that this breach of trust in the MP-staff relationship was completely improper and should not have happened.

"I apologised at the time and do so again to the complainant but also to my colleagues, family and most importantly my constituents."

The process for a petition to force a by-election under the Recall of MPs Act 2015 is not triggered by the recommendation of a punishment by the IEP, which did not exist at the time the law was passed.

Therefore, despite the prospect of a six-week suspension, for a recall to be initiated the sanction must be imposed on the recommendation of the Committee on Standards or a similar Commons committee.

The complaint was made in June 2020 that Mr Roberts made "repeated and unwanted sexual advances" to the person who made the complaint and also made "inappropriate comments of a sexual nature and was overly intrusive about his personal life".

The IEP report said Mr Roberts acknowledged that aspects of his behaviour towards the man who made the complaint were inappropriate, and offered an apology.

The case was investigated by the Parliamentary Commission for Standards which found Mr Roberts had breached the sexual misconduct policy.

The MP appealed to the IEP, first against the ruling and then against the proposed sanction.

The recommendation of a six-week suspension takes into account the "abuse of power or authority" by Mr Roberts as an aggravating factor.

The IEP acknowledged that he was going through "several challenges and significant changes in his personal life when he breached the sexual misconduct policy".

The panel said the sanction "reflects our view that the sexual misconduct found proved in this case amounts to a serious breach of the behaviour code which has significantly impacted the wellbeing of the reporter and has the propensity to undermine the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons".

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "We would like to apologise to the individual concerned for the inappropriate and unwarranted treatment they were subjected to by someone in a position of authority.

"There is no place for the behaviour they were subjected to and we praise their courage in coming forward."

Downing Street suggested the loophole preventing a by-election could be closed.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Government is now considering next steps and will update shortly."

Labour's chairwoman Anneliese Dodds called for Mr Roberts to resign and 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.

"The Conservative government cannot dance around gaps in legislation if it is serious about upholding standards in public life."