In Depth

Keith Vaz: how the sex and drug saga unfolded

Controversial Labour MP faces six-month parliamentary ban over 2016 scandal

Labour MP Keith Vaz faces a lengthy parliamentary ban for offering to buy cocaine for two male prostitutes in 2016.

The Commons Standards Committee has recommended that Vaz, who has been MP for Leicester East since 1987, be suspended for six months for what it has described as a breach of the MPs’ code of conduct.

The committee added that Vaz had shown “disrespect for the House’s standards system” and caused “significant damage” to the reputation and integrity of the Commons as a whole.

Vaz was forced to step down as chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 after the scandal initially broke, issuing a public apology.

Shortly after the standards committee announced its decision on Monday, Vaz was reportedly admitted to hospital for a serious mental health condition. He is understood to have suffered from mental health issues since the scandal became headline news in 2016.

Nevertheless, the BBC reports that if MPs vote to approve the committee’s recommendation, Vaz “would be subject to a recall petition which could trigger a by-election if supported by 10% of his constituents”.

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What happened in 2016?

An inquiry was launched by the Commons Standards Commissioner in September 2016 after the Daily Mirror published allegations that Vaz had offered to buy drugs for someone.

The paper alleged that on 27 August 2016, Vaz invited two men to his London flat to engage in paid-for sex, and that during the course of the encounter – which was covertly audio-recorded by one of the men – the MP offered to buy cocaine for a third person to use.

Vaz had reportedly told the two Eastern European male escorts that his name was Jim and he was a washing machine salesman.

The Mirror accused the MP of living a “double life” away from his wife and two children, but was keen to stress that Vaz had expressed no desire to take cocaine himself.

The Guardian reported in 2016 that the Mirror was not involved in planning the operation to entrap Vaz. Instead, the two escorts had reportedly recorded their encounters with Vaz before then approaching the paper with the tapes. 

What was Vaz’s response?

The Leicester East MP’s response to the allegations was muddled and controversial. After the scandal broke, he issued a public apology to his wife and children and quit as chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee before the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson announced she would conduct an official investigation into his conduct. 

This was to determine whether he had breached the MPs’ code of conduct, which covers public interest and whether damage was done to the reputation of the Commons.

According to The Sun, Vaz told Commons investigators he did not pay for sex and the men were there to discuss “decorating his flat”. He also claimed that he may have been given a “spiked drink” by the men and did not remember parts of the encounter because of amnesia. 

In spite of the inquiry, he was appointed to the Justice Select Committee just a month after the scandal broke, in October 2016, after he was nominated by his party and backed by 150 Conservative MPs. A motion to stop his accession to the committee by Tory MP Andrew Bridgen - a move seen as highly unusual and controversial - failed in the Commons.

After Vaz suffered a series of medical and mental health issues, the inquiry was halted in 2017.

Why is this back in the news?

The inquiry recommenced in 2018 and its findings were announced by the committee this week.

In it Kathryn Stone, who replaced Hudson as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in 2018, claimed it was “more likely than not that Mr Vaz has engaged in paid sexual activity” and said that the recording one of the men made in his flat “contains evidence of Mr Vaz’s apparent willingness to purchase controlled drugs for others to use”.

However, the members of the committee also claimed that Vaz’s explanation that the men were there to discuss the redecoration of the flat and that he may have been given a “spiked drink” was “not believable and, indeed, ludicrous”.

As a result, it found that Vaz had “treated the House’s standards system with disrespect by, amongst other things, giving an incredible account of the incident at his flat” and thus was in breach of the Commons’ code of conduct.

“By expressing willingness to purchase a Class A drug, cocaine, for others to use, thereby showing disregard for the law, and by failing to co-operate fully with the inquiry process, thereby showing disrespect for the House’s standards system, he has caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole,” the report concluded. “This is a very serious breach of the Code. We recommend that the House should suspend Mr Vaz from its service for six months.”

The Sun says that, if approved by MPs, the six-month suspension “would be the longest ban given to any MP since records began in 1949”.

Vaz has not been available for comment.

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