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Conservative Neil Parish was rejecting calls to stand down immediately as an MP while being investigated for allegedly watching pornography in the Commons chamber, as he suggested he may have opened a video accidentally.
The select committee chairman said he would be continuing his “duties” as an MP for Tiverton and Honiton, in Devon, while “cooperating fully” with investigators after he had the Tory whip suspended on Friday.
He said he would only consider his position after the conclusion of an inquiry, having earlier been revealed to be the subject of the allegations, ending days of speculation after the claims surfaced during a meeting of Tory MPs on Tuesday.
Mr Parish, a 65-year-old farmer, said he had referred himself to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone over “an MP’s use of their mobile phone in Parliament”.
But he vowed to continue serving his constituents and remain chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee despite calls to resign or at least stop attending the Commons while under investigation.
“I will be cooperating fully with any investigation, and whilst it is ongoing I will continue to perform my duties as MP for Tiverton and Honiton,” he wrote on his website.
Later asked by broadcasters if he opened something in error in the Commons, he said: “I did, but let the inquiry look at that.”
Mr Parish said he will consider his position as an MP after the result of the investigation, telling reporters: “I will not remain if I am found guilty.”
He said he told his wife on Friday afternoon, adding: “Of course it’s embarrassing and it’s embarrassing for my wife and family, so that’s my main concern at the moment.”
His wife Sue Parish said “it was all very embarrassing” as she told the Times she was not aware of her husband having done similar activities before.
“No. He’s quite a normal guy, really. He’s a lovely person. It’s just so stupid,” she said.
Conservative former Cabinet minister Karen Bradley said she “would urge him not to come into Parliament” while under investigation and was clear he must quit if found guilty.
She told Channel 4 News: “I’m struggling to find an excuse, I’m struggling to find a reason that might mean it was acceptable but let’s let the investigation take its course.”
Labour’s Harriet Harman, who is the longest-standing female MP, called on Mr Parish to stand down amid a “new low for the House of Commons”.
“If this is what he has done, he should stand down from Parliament right away. It is not right for him to go through the investigation processes if that is what he has done,” she told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
“Clearly he is not fit to be in Parliament. He should accept that and not drag the processes out.”
Conservative chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris suspended Mr Parish, who has represented his constituency since 2010, from the parliamentary Conservative Party after they talked on Friday afternoon.
“Mr Parish has been suspended from the Conservative whip pending the outcome of that investigation,” a spokesman for Mr Heaton-Harris said.
First the Tories looked to refer the matter to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), which looks into claims of bullying and sexual harassment.
It is understood that process has now started after at least one witness made a referral.
But a second investigation could be launched after Mr Parish’s commitment to refer himself to Ms Stone.
It was unclear what potential breach of the MPs’ code of conduct he would report himself for.
But it is thought one line of inquiry could be whether Mr Parish caused “significant damage to the reputation and integrity” of the Commons.
Before being identified as the MP at the centre of the storm, Mr Parish was asked about the allegations during an appearance on GB News earlier this week.
'You are going to get people that step over the line.'
Neil Parish, who has had the whip removed following accusations he watched pornography in the Commons, spoke to Darren McCaffrey earlier this week and denied there was a cultural problem in Parliament. pic.twitter.com/bHHQedHpdo
— GB News (@GBNEWS) April 29, 2022
He was non-committal on whether the suspect should have the whip removed and denied there was a large cultural problem in Westminster, despite senior Conservative colleagues having decried it as being “shameful”.
“We’ve got some 650 Members of Parliament in what is a very intense area,” Mr Parish said.
“We are going to get people that step over the line. I don’t think there’s necessarily a huge culture here but I think it does have to be dealt with and dealt with seriously and that’s what the whips will do.”
Tory MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, said she had been “disappointed” that the whip was not removed immediately but was “very relieved” that Mr Parish has now been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative Party.
She told ITV News: “I’ve been calling for the chief whip to remove the whip from when we first heard about this incident. It’s appalling, nobody should be watching pornography at work.
“I’m pleased that action has been taken and I hope that the two women who complained are being supported through the system as well.”
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire accused the Government of “rotting from the head down”.
The Labour frontbencher said: “The Conservatives knew for days about the disgusting behaviour of one of their MPs and tried to cover it up.”
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper called for the Prime Minister to order Mr Parish to resign.
“If Boris Johnson had any shred of decency left, he would tell Neil Parish to resign immediately,” she said.
“In any other workplace this would count as gross misconduct and the person responsible would lose their job. Parliament should be no different.
“We don’t need to insult the women MPs who witnessed this with a lengthy investigation. All his bosses need to do is ask for his devices and look at his viewing history, this isn’t rocket science.”
The pornography claims followed reports that 56 MPs, including three Cabinet ministers, are facing allegations of sexual misconduct that have been referred to the ICGS.
They also follow outrage over The Mail On Sunday publishing “sexist” and disputed claims from unnamed Tory MPs that deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tried to distract Boris Johnson with her legs during Prime Minister’s Questions.