Keith Vaz resigns as chair of home affairs select committee

Senior Labour MP steps down from influential committee following string of allegations about sex workers and drugs

Keith Vaz has stood down as chair of the home affairs select committee following three days of allegations involving sex workers and drugs.

The MP for Leicester East told committee members on Tuesday morning and consulted with the office of Jeremy Corbyn before announcing the decision.

It means that a new chair – who has to be a Labour MP – will be chosen within weeks. The position will be hotly contested, with MPs from all parties having a vote.

Caroline Flint, the former home office and Europe minister, has told the Guardian she will put her name forward. Chuka Umunna, the former business minister who is already on the committee, is also one of the favourites for the job and has been urged to stand by colleagues in the Commons and other members of the committee.

After nine years in the post, Vaz has made the role one of the most high-profile and effective in parliament outside government. But he said he had to leave because of the effects of the intense publicity on his wife and children.

In a sombre statement, Vaz said he was “genuinely sorry” that he could not continue in the role. “It is in the best interest of the home affairs select committee that its important work can be conducted without any distractions whatsoever. I am genuinely sorry that recent events make it impossible for this to happen if I remain chair,” he said.

He conceded that as chair he was accountable for his actions.

“I have always been passionate about select committees,” he said, “having served as either chair or member for half of my time in parliament. The integrity of the select committee system matters to me. Those who hold others to account must themselves be accountable.

“I told the committee today of my decision to stand aside immediately from committee business, and my intention to resign. This is my decision, and mine alone, and my first consideration has been the effect of recent events on my family. I have recommended that in the interim, Tim Loughton MP, the senior Conservative member, should chair proceedings.

“After speaking to the house authorities, I will formally tender my resignation to Mr Speaker so that it coincides with the timetable for the election of other committee chairs, such as the Brexit committee, culture, media and sport, and science and technology, so that the elections can take place together.”

Commenting on the resignation, Umunna, a fellow Labour member of the committee, said: “Keith has done a fine job chairing our committee for almost a decade, a view widely shared across the House. I am very sad to see Keith step down but believe he has made the right decision by parliament and those we serve. It is incredibly important the committee carries on the important work we are doing scrutinising government.”

Vaz faced a string of claims against him after a Sunday Mirror sting. The newspaper accused him of paying for male escorts, discussing the use of recreational drugs such as cocaine, and encouraging others to use poppers.

Speaking the day after running a successful cross-party campaign to open the way for country by country tax transparency, Flint said: “Home affairs is a subject I have always been interested in. I’ll stand.”

Umunna, the former business minister, is one of the favourites for the job. When asked on Tuesday if he would stand, he said it “would not be appropriate” to announce his candidature before Vaz has submitted his resignation to the Speaker, John Bercow.

Other MPs have suggested that Yvette Cooper, the former home secretary, would also make a good chair. The election will be held in October, after the party conference season, by secret ballot.

Vaz attended his final home affairs select committee in the Grimond Room on Tuesday and was given a round of applause as he left the room.

Loughton, the interim chair, said Vaz gave a “very frank” account of what had happened.

“With sadness we all accepted that that was the appropriate course of action that he has taken and we also appreciate the many challenges facing him personally and his family,” he said.

Outside the committee room, Vaz told a reporter from ITN that he would not be standing down from Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), which is closely tied between Corbyn supporters and his opponents.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said Vaz’s future on the NEC would be discussed when it meets. He said: “He’s made his decision because he felt that to carry on in the circumstances that he is now involved in would detract from the work of the home affairs committee. He has made that decision for himself.”

On Monday, Theresa May increased the pressure on Vaz by calling for MPs to maintain the public’s confidence in them or consider their positions.

Speaking at the G20 summit in China, the prime minister said: “What has been clear throughout my political career, and what is important for people, is that they feel they are able to have confidence in their politicians, and that is what we have a duty to apply for those who elect us.

Theresa May responds to Vaz allegations: ‘What Keith does is for Keith’ – video

“What Keith does is for Keith and any decisions he wishes to make are for him. But overall, what people want is confidence in their politicians.”

The Sunday Mirror reported that Vaz had paid for the services of male sex workers and had asked one of them to bring along poppers, a sex-enhancing drug that the government nearly banned earlier this year.

Vaz has apologised to his family, but condemned the tactics of the newspaper reporters.

On Monday, he appeared in the House of Commons chamber to take part in questions to the home secretary, Amber Rudd. He welcomed Rudd to her role and asked about terrorism suspects who had fled Britain while on police bail to join Islamic State. Vaz made no mention of the newspaper reports.

Vaz could face an investigation by the commissioner for standards over the newspaper claims. It was alleged that he met male eastern European sex workers at a flat he owns in north London. According to the paper, Vaz asked one of the men in a text message sent before the encounter to bring poppers.

Vaz had argued in parliament that poppers should not be included in a list of substances banned by the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. He is quoted in the Sunday Mirror as telling the escorts that he did not use poppers himself.

Vaz reportedly told the men that his name was Jim and he was a washing machine salesman. He was quoted discussing with the men the possibility of obtaining cocaine for the next time they met, although Vaz reportedly said he would not want to take the drug himself.

Following claims by Vaz’s friends that the MP may have been drugged during the sting, the Daily Mirror released new details on Monday night of the alleged encounter, which the paper claims was the second meeting between Vaz and the two sex workers. It included a transcript of him allegedly ordering them to take up sexual positions. The Mirror claims it is proof that he was in control of the situation.

Contributors

Rajeev Syaland Anushka Asthana

The GuardianTramp

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