Conservative MP Crispin Blunt has apologised for criticising the conviction of his fellow MP Imran Ahmad Khan for sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
The former Tory minister said he had “decided to retract my statement” defending Khan after the Wakefield MP was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Mr Blunt added: “I am sorry that my defence of him has been a cause of significant upset and concern, not least to victims of sexual offences. It was not my intention to do this.”
He also resigned as chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Global LGBT+ Rights. “To be clear I do not condone any form of abuse and I strongly believe in the independence and integrity of the justice system,” he added.
The MP has also removed a post from his website in which he had claimed that Khan was the victim of a “dreadful miscarriage of justice” – where he had also referred to the verdict as “an international scandal”.
Khan was thrown out of the Tory party following the verdict, and Mr Blunt had come under huge pressure from top Conservatives at the party’s HQ to withdraw his statement.
Shortly before the Reigate MP deleted his statement on Tuesday, a senior Tory source said his views were “wholly unacceptable” and “we expect the statement to be retracted first thing this morning”.
Labour condemned Mr Blunt’s “disgraceful” defence of Khan, and senior MP Chris Byrant said the Conservatives shoulkd now launch an investigation.
“I think the Conservative party need to do a proper investigation into what on earth Crispin thought he was doing,” he told Sky News. “It undermines parliament … when a lawmaker decides that a court of law has behaved completely inappropriately.”
Anneliese Dodds, Labour chair, called on Boris Johnson and Tory chair Oliver Dowden to “take action” against the former prisons minister.
Prior to his resignation as chair, members of the APPG on Global LGBT+ Rights – including Mr Bryant and the SNP’s Stewart McDonald and Joanna Cherry – said they were quitting the cross-party body.
A jury at Southwark Crown Court took about five hours to decide Khan, 48, was guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage boy, who is now 29, in 2008.
The court heard how Khan forced the then-teenager to drink gin and tonic, dragged him upstairs, pushed him on to a bed and asked him to watch pornography before the attack at a house in Staffordshire in January 2008.
However, in the now-retracted statement published on his website on Monday, Mr Blunt claimed that the jury’s decision in Khan’s case was “nothing short of an international scandal”.
Mr Blunt, who came out as gay in 2010, had also claimed that the case “relied on lazy tropes about LGBT+ people” and argued the result had “dreadful wider implications” for LGBT+ Muslims “around the world”.
Asked about comments made by Mr Blunt – and if the government distanced itself from them – defence minister James Heappey replied: “Yes … it’s not something the government associates itself with.”
The minister told Sky News on Tuesday: “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.”
Mr Heappey also said there were now “mechanisms” through which Khan can be removed from his seat and a by-election forced – referring to recall petitions.
“He has had the whip removed and has been expelled from the Conservative Party,” said the minister.
“The way that parliament works is that you are elected as an individual, so his seat in the House of Commons is his until he personally chooses to vacate it.”
Khan’s legal team said he plans to appeal against the conviction.