MPs have expressed outrage over comments made by the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt about the guilty verdict in Imran Ahmad Khan’s sexual assault trial.
Blunt, the MP for Reigate since 1997 and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on LGBTQ+ rights, said he was certain Khan was innocent and that the trial “was nothing short of an international scandal”.
The MP for Wakefield was expelled from the Conservative party with “immediate effect” hours after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
“I am utterly appalled and distraught at the dreadful miscarriage of justice that has befallen my friend and colleague Imran Ahmad Khan, MP for Wakefield since December 2019,” Blunt said in a statement.
“I sat through some of the trial. The conduct of this case relied on lazy tropes about LGBT+ people that we might have thought we had put behind us decades ago,” he said.
“As a former justice minister, I was prepared to testify about the truly extraordinary sequence of events that has resulted in Imran being put through this nightmare start to his parliamentary career.”
Three MPs have since resigned from the APPG – Scottish National party MPs Stewart McDonald and Joanna Cherry, and Labour MP Chris Bryant.
“Parliament needs a respected and robust LGBT group and Crispin can no longer provide that leadership. He should stand down,” McDonald tweeted.
Bryant called Blunt’s statement “completely inappropriate”.
“I have written to complain and to resign from the LGBT APPG which Crispin chairs,” he wrote on the social media platform.
The Labour chair, Anneliese Dodds, called Blunt’s comment “disgraceful”. In a tweet, she said Boris Johnson and the Conservative party chair, Oliver Dowden, “must take action against this Tory MP and distance their party from his comments”.
A Conservative HQ spokesperson said: “A jury of Mr Khan’s peers has found him guilty of a criminal offence. We completely reject any allegations of impropriety against our independent judiciary, the jury or Mr Khan’s victim.”
Khan was already sitting as an independent MP after the Conservative whip was suspended before his trial, and he may be able to continue in the role for some time while he appeals against the verdict.
Janes Solicitors, the firm representing Khan, said in a statement: “Our client Imran Ahmad Khan MP maintains his innocence and will be appealing as soon as possible.”
Hours after Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting the boy, whom he plied with gin at a party in 2008, a Conservative party spokesperson said: “Mr Khan has been expelled from the Conservative party with immediate effect.”
Under MPs’ recall rules introduced after the expenses scandal, any MP given a jail sentence of more than 12 months is automatically disqualified. If an MP is sentenced to a lesser jail term, they can be removed if a recall petition open for six weeks is signed by at least 10% of local registered voters.
A recall is also triggered if an MP is suspended for at least 10 Commons sitting days or 14 days in all by the select committee on standards, or if they are convicted for making false or misleading expenses claims, irrespective of the sentence.
However, the procedures involving court cases are only triggered once all appeals are exhausted, which can take a considerable time. The recalled MP can also stand again as a candidate.
In March 2019, the then Conservative MP Chris Davies pleaded guilty to two offences under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. The recall was successful, with 19% of electors signing the petition. Davies was selected as the Conservative candidate for the subsequent byelection in July 2019, which he lost.
In November last year, the Labour MP Claudia Webbe was given a suspended 10-week sentence after being found guilty of a campaign of harassment against a woman, but she has appealed and still sits as an independent.
Another former Conservative MP, Rob Roberts, is sitting as an independent after refusing to step down despite being suspended from the Commons for six weeks last May for making repeated and unwanted sexual advances towards a former member of staff, as well as inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.
While his suspension was greater than the threshold for a recall petition, Roberts avoided this by having appealed against the initial verdict by the standards commissioner. This meant his case was judged by a separate body, an independent expert panel, whose punishment was not covered by the recall legislation.
The rules have since been changed so that any MP found to have carried out bullying or harassment, offences covered by the independent expert panel, will automatically face a recall petition. However, the change was not retrospective, meaning Roberts remains an MP.
If Khan is ousted, it will trigger a closely fought byelection in his Wakefield seat, to which he was elected in 2019 as its first Tory MP since 1932.