New by-election looms as MP Peter Bone suspended over bullying and sexual misconduct

Rishi Sunak faces another by-election headache after ex-Tory MP Peter Bone was suspended for six weeks for bullying and sexual misconduct against a staff member.

MPs have approved the lengthy sanction against the MP for Wellingborough, who is now sitting as an independent after losing the Conservative whip.

A recall petition will be arranged, which will trigger a by-election if signed by 10 per cent of voters in the Northamptonshire constituency which Mr Bone has held since 2005.

The MP holds majority of 18,540. smaller than the majorities the embattled Tories had held in both Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire in 2019, and they both fell to Labour in by-elections last week.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden has admitted potential by-election in Peter Bone’s Wellingborough constituency is likely to be “challenging”.

The senior Tory minister said it would be “up to the people of Peter Bone’s constituency” if a by-election was held. “Of course any by-election for a government that has been in power for 13 years is always going to be challenging,” Mr Dowden told Sky News.

Asked whether the government thought it would be defeated, Mr Dowden replied: “I’m not saying we are going to lose it at all – I’m saying that we will go out there and make our case very robustly.”

Mr Sunak said by-elections are “always difficult for incumbent governments” when asked about Mr Bone’s seat at a press conference on Thursday. But the PM said “we are just going to carry on delivering for the country”.

Mr Bone committed “many varied acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct” in 2012 and 2013, according to Parliament’s Independent Expert Panel. He “verbally belittled, ridiculed, abused and humiliated” the employee and “repeatedly physically struck and threw things” at him, the panel heard.

MPs backed the suspension of Peter Bone (PA Wire)
MPs backed the suspension of Peter Bone (PA Wire)

Mr Bone was found to have indecently exposed himself to the complainant in the bathroom of a hotel room during a work trip to Madrid.

He also imposed an “unwanted and humiliating ritual” on the man by forcing him to sit with his hands in his lap when the MP was unhappy with his work, the investigation found.

The complainant at the centre of the case has told the BBC it was a “horrid, brutal, dark experience that left me a broken shell of the young man I once was”.

The staffer said: “Peter’s behaviour was erratic. His temper was often explosive.

“Like a pendulum, he would go from one type of personality to another. It was very hard to predict, and that kind of left me feeling quite under siege. They call it a siege mentality in terms of the relentless shouting, the screaming, the hitting.”

The man accused the Conservative Party of having “effectively ghosted” him for three years after he first reported the allegations, with a complaint going to then-prime minister Theresa May in 2017.

He said he felt disrespect when Boris Johnson made Mr Bone deputy leader of the House of Commons despite an investigation by Tory HQ.

Mr Bone denied the allegations, insisting they were “without foundation” but he was kicked out of the Tory parliamentary party the next day. He has vowed to continue representing his constituents.

A staff member of Mr Bone’s made five allegations about him in October 2021, including that he verbally belittled, ridiculed, abused and humiliated” his employee.

In his response to the panel’s findings, Mr Bone said: “As I have maintained throughout these proceedings, none of the misconduct allegations against me ever took place. They are false and untrue claims.”