By-election triggered as suspended MP Peter Bone loses his seat

Rishi Sunak will face another by-election test early next year after MP Peter Bone lost his seat in parliament in a recall petition.

The Northamptonshire MP was suspended from the Commons for six weeks in October after an inquiry found he had subjected a staff member to bullying and sexual misconduct.

He has now lost his seat in the recall petition triggered by his suspension, after it was backed by 13.2 per cent of eligible voters – 10,505 people – in his Wellingborough constituency, surpassing the 10 per cent threshold needed to trigger a by-election.

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone held his seat in 2019 with a majority of more than 18,000 (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone held his seat in 2019 with a majority of more than 18,000 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The 71-year-old had been sitting as an independent after losing the Conservative whip, having previously been the Tory MP for Wellingborough since 2005.

Mr Bone won the last election in 2019 by 18,540 votes, which is smaller than the majorities the embattled Tories had held in both Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire – both of which fell to Labour in by-elections earlier this year.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden previously admitted that a by-election in Peter Bone’s Wellingborough constituency was likely to be “challenging”.

Mr Bone was found by parliament’s behaviour watchdog to have “committed many varied acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct” against a staff member in 2012 and 2013.

The Independent Expert Panel upheld an earlier investigation which found he broke the MPs’ code of conduct on four counts of bullying and one of sexual misconduct. Mr Bone has denied the allegations.

Rishi Sunak has been dealt several by-election blows this year (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Rishi Sunak has been dealt several by-election blows this year (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The panel heard that he “verbally belittled, ridiculed, abused and humiliated” an employee and “repeatedly physically struck and threw things” at him.

Mr Bone was also found to have indecently exposed himself to the complainant a hotel room bathroom during a work trip to Madrid, and 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 inquiry 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 man also 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.

After his suspension expired, Mr Bone returned to the House of Commons last week to vote in favour of the government’s Rwanda bill.

Mr Sunak’s new immigration minister Tom Pursglove was also photographed in October campaigning with Mr Bone in Northamptonshire, only two days after his suspension was ratified by MPs and despite him having lost the Tory whip.

In a statement on Tuesday night, Mr Bone said the triggering of a by-election “seems bizarre” given that 86.8 per cent of eligible voters in his constituency had not backed the recall petition.

Calling the bullying and misconduct allegations against him “totally untrue and without foundation”, Mr Bone added: “I will have more to say on these matters in the new year.”

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said voters in Wellingborough had the “opportunity to vote for a fresh start” in the upcoming by-election.