Isabel Hardman

Tory whips had already planned to reinstate Charlie Elphicke before confidence vote

Tory whips had already planned to reinstate Charlie Elphicke before confidence vote
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MPs have been expressing their fury today that the vote of no confidence in Theresa May allowed two suspended Tories to rejoin the party. Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke had both had the Conservative whip removed over claims of inappropriate sexual behaviour, but were reinstated yesterday so that they could vote.

Labour's Shadow Women and Equalities Minister Dawn Butler described it as a 'betrayal of women', adding 'how can Theresa May call herself a feminist when she lets an MP who was suspended back into the Conservative party to vote for her in the leadership challenge?'

Tory sources last night said both men had returned to the party 'for the foreseeable' future, which suggested that it is not necessary for the facts in a serious case to change, merely the political facts for the Conservative party.

But I now understand that the Conservative whips had in fact decided last week that Elphicke should get the whip back. Two very good sources have confirmed to me that Chief Whip Julian Smith had come to regret the initial decision taken to suspend the Dover and Deal MP when 'serious allegations' were referred to the police in November 2017. Smith had taken the job just a couple of days before, and now feels that he was too hasty when Elphicke had not been informed of the allegations against him, and given there have still not been any charges against him.

A number of Conservative MPs had been working with the whips on this matter, while Elphicke has continued to deny any wrongdoing. But it was then decided not to reinstate him just before the meaningful vote on Brexit, which was scheduled for Tuesday, because to do so would be to appear to be giving out favours in return for votes. A decision had been pending in the case of Griffiths, too, though it is not clear whether that would also have led to the whip being restored. Of course, then the threshold of letters calling for a vote of no confidence was reached, and the whips then restored Elphicke and Griffiths anyway.

This does cast Elphicke's return in a slightly different light, given the whips had already decided that he did deserve to play a full part in party matters. But the damage that Smith and his colleagues had hoped they would avoid causing by delaying reinstating the whip before the meaningful vote has been caused anyway: the Conservative party now appears to think it is ok to disregard allegations of sexual misconduct when the leader is at stake, even if it is more complicated than that.

It must be especially galling for Tories to hear this criticism from Labour, given the party still hasn't made much progress with its tranche of complaints, and is still trying to introduce a more independent process for hearing allegations. Either way, it's clearly a while before someone who feels wronged by an MP in either main party can have much confidence that their allegation will be dealt with fairly and in a manner that is free from factional concerns.