Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has been criticised for his “inappropriate” comments over the arrest of a Tory colleague on allegations of rape and sexual assault offences.
The long-standing MP was accused of treating the arrest as a “laughing matter” after making a quip about it on social media.
The unnamed Tory MP, who is in his 50s, is accused of offences spanning seven years and has now been released on bail pending further inquiries.
The Metropolitan Police said officers received a report in January 2020 relating to alleged sexual offences committed in London between 2002 and 2009.
Tory chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris urged the MP to stay away from Parliament but has not suspended the whip, meaning the suspect remains a member of the parliamentary party.
What did Michael Fabricant say?
Mr Fabricant tweeted that he and other Tory MPs would be attending Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (18 May) to prove that they are not the unidentified man told to stay away from Parliament.
In a tweet, he wrote: “I am expecting a strong turnout of Conservative MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions today.
“Not only to demonstrate their strong support for #Boris (!!). BUT also to prove they are NOT the one told by the Chief Whip to stay at home. I’ll be there! (winking face with tongue emoji)”
The MP appeared to stand by his comment despite a dressing down by the Tory whips, with Conservative sources branding its contents “inappropriate”.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner labelled Mr Fabricant’s tweet “grotesque”, while shadow health secretary Wes Streeting warned “this isn’t a joke”.
Chris Bryant, who chairs the Commons Standards Committee, responded: “This shows absolutely shameful disregard for the alleged victims. You should take this down immediately.”
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart criticised Mr Fabricant’s tweet, telling BBC Politics Live: “It’s idiotic, it’s insensitive, and it attempts to make light of a really serious situation.
“I despair when I read stuff like that.”
Fellow Labour MP Charlotte Nichols added: “One of the grimmest things about working in Westminster is not just the regularity with which allegations of rape and sexual assault come up, but the fact people like Fabricant here trivialise these as a laughing matter or quirky bit of gossip complete with (the) emoji.”
Asked by the PA news agency if he stands by the tweet, Mr Fabricant said: “In no way was I making light of rape or any other assault. They disgust me.
“I was, however, commenting on the speculation as to who the MP might be.”
The tweet has since been deleted.
What has been said about the MP arrest?
Scotland Yard has bailed the MP accused of rape and sexual assault offences pending further investigation into a string of allegations, also including indecent assault, abuse of position of trust and misconduct in public office.
The Conservative Party has refused to name the MP facing allegations of sexual offences as there are clear legal issues with identifying the suspect, but keeping him anonymous will cast suspicion over other MPs who are not facing any allegations.
Conservative sources declined to identify the individual in the latest case, citing the need to protect the identity of any complainant.
A statement from the Tory whips’ office said: “The chief whip has asked that the MP concerned does not attend the Parliamentary estate while an investigation is ongoing.
“Until the conclusion of the investigation we will not be commenting further.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said it is “worrying” that another parliamentarian is facing “appalling” accusations, saying she said she was “very, very concerned”.
Speaking to Sky News, she said: “I’m very, very concerned about the reports that I’ve heard. Clearly this is a matter for the police.
“The police are currently working on the case but it is worrying that we are seeing these appalling … accusations, again, about a parliamentarian.”
Asked if the MP should have been suspended or had the whip withdrawn, she said: “I think it’s a matter for the police about whether that individual is named.
“I don’t know who it is. I know that the police are looking at it and investigating it and I think we need to wait for the police to conduct those investigations.”
It is not the first time in recent weeks that a Tory MP has faced criticism for their response to a colleague facing allegations of sexual offences.
Crispin Blunt, who since announced he will stand down at the next election, apologised last month for the “significant upset and concern” caused by his defence of fellow Conservative Imran Ahmad Khan following his conviction for sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
Mr Khan resigned as an MP in April after he was found guilty of sexually assualting a 15-year-old boy, and David Warburton had the Conservative whip withdrawn after allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use emerged.
Neil Parish also stood down as the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton earlier this month after admitting watching pornography in the Commons.
Over the past year, around 15 MPs are suspected to have been investigated by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) watchdog that examines allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.
The Prospect union, which represents hundreds of staff working in the Houses of Parliament, said firmer action is needed.