Disgraced Delyn MP who sexually harassed staff member reinstated to Welsh Conservative Party
A disgraced MP has been given back his Conservative Party membership after a 12-week suspension for sexually harassing a member of staff.
The party confirmed that Rob Roberts, who represents Delyn in north Wales, would again be a Tory party member from Monday 1 November.
The Labour Party have criticised this decision, with the party's chair Anneliese Dodds describing it as "scandalous".
Mr Roberts was suspended in June 2020 after an independent parliamentary panel found he had broken sexual misconduct policy by making "repeated and unwanted" advances towards a colleague.
He will continue to sit as an independent in the House of Commons as the Conservatives are still withholding the party whip.
Ms Dodds said Mr Roberts "should have resigned as an MP" as soon as he was suspended.
She added: "That he is now set to return to the Conservative Party shows they've let him off the hook."
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also said the move was a "disgrace", adding: "Rob Roberts has no place in Parliament, politics or public life."
Mr Roberts was stripped of the whip after Parliament's Independent Expert Panel found he broke the sexual misconduct policy. The former staff member who made the complaint against the MP told BBC Wales that Mr Roberts had repeatedly propositioned him, leaving him feeling "uncomfortable", "shocked" and "horrified".
Mr Roberts, who became an MP in 2019, apologised for the "completely improper" behaviour but insisted his actions were "romantic" rather than sexual.
The Commons approved a motion to suspend Mr Roberts from the House for six weeks in May, in line with the recommendation from the independent panel.
The Conservatives suspended him from the party for twice that duration, while senior figures, including Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, urged Mr Roberts to do the "honourable" thing and stand down as an MP.
Analysis by Adrian Masters, ITV Cymru Wales Political Editor
The case of Rob Roberts has proven to be a difficult one for the Conservative party and for MPs that has put in the spotlight the system used for dealing with MPs who are found to have breached standards rules, in particular those around bullying and sexual harassment.
Those rules have now been changed but some are still angry that they weren’t changed in a way that would have applied in this instance.
When he made his apology, the Delyn MP said that he would “continue to serve” his constituency and resisted pressure from all sides to stand down.
And the pressure really was from all sides: the Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, publicly urged Mr Roberts to resign.
He said that “Following a case of this severity, in which it would be honourable for a member to stand down after the withdrawal of the whip, we need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between independence, protecting the confidentiality of complainants, and ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case."
The problem is that the decision to suspend Rob Roberts was made by the Independent Expert Panel which recommended that he be suspended.
If the same decision had been made by the Commons’ Standards Committee, it would have led to an automatic triggering of the Recall process, whereby voters in the MPs’ constituency are given chance to say if they want the MP to continue or to hold a by-election.
The system has now been changed so that MPs suspended by the Independent panel for bullying or sexual harassment now face a recall petition.
But the principle of independence is what scuppered plans to make that change apply retrospectively to Rob Roberts. The panel was set up to be independent of political influence, to ensure that its decisions would be made regardless of the interests of any particular party.
When MPs voted to close the discrepancy that prevented a recall petition being used, Labour tried to amend the legislation to apply retrospectively to Rob Roberts.
The Conservative government resisted that because it said it would be a political decision on a case that had been decided by the Independent panel.
Now that his party suspension has ended, Rob Roberts is able to resume his membership but will continue to sit as an independent MP, knowing that senior figures within his own party would prefer him to have resigned.
At the same time, those who accuse MPs of failing to take sexual harassment seriously will see this as more proof that attitudes need to change.
The political avenues seem exhausted but the situation remains unresolved.