EXCLUSIVE: A senior Labour MP’s plan to trigger a by-election in former culture secretary Nadine Dorries’ Mid-Bedfordshire constituency will be “ready” by the time parliament rises from recess in September.
Sir Chris Bryant, who chairs the House of Commons Standards and privileges committee, has detailed plans to reinstate an 1801 rule to prevent MPs from going “out of town without leave of the house”.
First raised in an interview with the Financial Times, Sir Chris has said the rule change would force Ms Dorries to attend parliament or face a by-election.
Asked in an interview with politics.co.uk whether we can expect a motion to be introduced immediately after parliament returns from summer recess on 4 September, the senior Labour MP responded: “I’ll certainly be ready with one”.
Sir Chris also said that he had received approval from the House of Commons Clerks over whether such a move would be possible.
Explaining the rule, the senior Labour MP said: “In 1801, obviously it’s a very long time ago, parliament had a rule and nobody should absent themselves and from parliament without permission and people used to ask for permission and sometimes they weren’t granted it”.
He added: “[MPs] could table a motion, which says that ‘the right honourable member for Mid-Beds must appear and in the House [by a certain time] And if she were to fail to do, so she would stand in contempt to the House”.
Mr Bryant explained that Ms Dorries could then be referred to the committee of privileges “or, more likely, you could just say we’re suspending you from parliament”.
But he added: “My guess is that long before we got to that point, she would decide the game is up”.
On the issue of how the use of the rule could implicate Sinn Féin MPs, who do not take their seats in the commons on a matter of principle, Mr Bryant countered that that’s “one of those extenuating circumstances. So just as we have a different set of rules for them in relation to oaths, and so on”.
Asked whether he senses building support for reviving the 1801 rule, Sir Chris said: “Well, I think everybody’s watching this space, is how I’d describe it. I’ve mentioned it to both the government chief whip and the opposition chief whip”.
He added: “The point is that — it’s embarrassing but its true — that some MPs, especially once they’ve had their ministerial career, just disappear. And that’s unfair on constituents, and it brings the whole of the rest of us into disrepute”.
Ms Dorries, who has served as the MP for Mid Bedfordshire since 2005, has angered opposition MPs as well as Conservatives by remaining in post long after she announced on June 9 that she would step down “with immediate effect” in protest at not being given a peerage in former prime minister Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list.
The Boris Johnson loyalist has been branded as an “absentee” MP and the “lingering MP for Mid Bedfordshire” as she has not spoken in the commons since July 2022 and last voted in April this year.
Ms Dorries claims she is delaying her commons exit because she is investigating the case of her peerage nomination, which she believes was blocked by Rishi Sunak’s team “to punish Boris”.
Last month, Flitwick town council in Mid Bedfordshire expressed its “concerns and frustration with the situation” and urged Ms Dorries to “immediately vacate” the seat.
In an open letter, the council accused Ms Dorries of focussing on her chat show on TalkTV and “political manoeuvres to embarrass the government for not appointing you to the House of Lords” rather than representing constituents.
On Thursday, immigration minister Robert Jenrick suggested to Sky News that Downing Street will “consider” Sir Chris Bryant’s proposals to oust Ms Dorries from the House of Commons, urging her to “get on” with the formal process of vacating her seat so a by-election can be held.
Rishi Sunak also said last week that Ms Dorries constituents were not being properly represented while she remained in post.
The prime minister told LBC radio: “I think people deserve to have an MP that represents them, wherever they are.”
“At the moment people aren’t being properly represented.”