Former minister Crispin Blunt is under pressure to withdraw his claim that fellow MP Imran Ahmad Khan was the victim of a "dreadful miscarriage of justice" after the Wakefield MP was found guilty on Monday of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. Khan was thrown out of the Tory Party following the verdict.
A Tory source said: "Crispin's views are wholly unacceptable. Following exchanges late last night we expect the statement to be retracted first thing this morning." The statement was indeed retracted the following morning on April 12th.
Here’s what you need to know about Blunt’s statement and the reactions from fellow politicians.
What did Crispin Blunt say about Imran Khan?
Mr Blunt, who was at the London court on Monday, said the case "relied on lazy tropes about LGBT+ people" and argued the result had "dreadful wider implications" for LGBT Muslims "around the world".
"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,” wrote the MP. “His conviction today is nothing short of an international scandal, with dreadful wider implications for millions of LGBT+ Muslims around the world.
"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. 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."
On Tuesday April 12th, Mr Blunt retracted his statement and published a brief apology on Twitter.
"On reflection I have decided to retract my statement defending Imran Ahmad Khan,” he wrote. “I am sorry that my defence of him has been a cause of significant upset and concern not least to victims of sexual offences.
"To be clear I do not condone any form of abuse and I strongly believe in the independence and integrity of the judicial system.”
He also stated that he would be resigning from his role as Chair for the APPG for Global LGBT+ Rights amid “a particulaly difficult time for LGBT+ rights across the world”.
Reactions to Crispin Blunt’s statement about Imran Khan
Asked if Mr Blunt should retract his comments, Mr Heappey told Sky News: "I don't know because I have no idea what it is that Crispin is referring to in the comments that he said."
"All I know is that in a court of law yesterday Mr Khan was found guilty and I think every one of us who believes in the judicial system and the rule of law has to respect that judgment, and I think it's for Crispin to account for his words but it's not something the Government associates itself with."
Asked if Mr Blunt should keep the whip, Mr Heappey said: "It's for people to look at today as they speak to Crispin, find out what this is all about. What matters is that absolutely nobody in Her Majesty's Government is seeking to be critical of the decision of the court."
Asked if the Government had concerns over a possible by-election in a Red Wall seat such as Wakefield, which Khan won in 2019, Mr Heappey added: "I just don't think that politics is the most important issue here."
Labour has also condemned Mr Blunt's defence of Khan and members of a cross-party LGBT group that the Reigate MP chairs have quit in protest, with one urging him to resign from his role. Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chairwoman and shadow equalities secretary, labelled Mr Blunt's comments "disgraceful".
She called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory chairman Oliver Dowden to "take action" against the former prisons minister and "distance their party from his comments".
Members of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Global LGBT+ Rights, including Labour MP Chris Bryant and the SNP's Stewart McDonald and Joanna Cherry, said they were quitting the cross-party body which Mr Blunt chairs. Mr Bryant described the remarks as "completely inappropriate".
Urging Mr Blunt to quit as APPG chair, Mr McDonald tweeted: "Parliament needs a respected and robust LGBT group and Crispin can no longer provide that leadership. He should stand down."
Ms Cherry tweeted that Mr Blunt's statement was the "last straw" for her membership of the group and that she intended to resign on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by PA.