A Labour MP has gone into hospital only hours after a parliamentary watchdog recommended he be suspended for six months over allegations he invited male prostitutes to his apartment and offered to buy them cocaine.
The House of Commons Standards Committee said Keith Vaz, 62, committed a "very serious breach" of the code of conduct for MPs.
In August 2016 the Sunday Mirror ran a front page story based on a sting operation in which two male prostitutes from Eastern Europe recorded an encounter with Vaz at an apartment in north London.
It’s time for Labour MP Keith Vaz (aka) Jim the washing machine man needs to resign or be sacked by @jeremycorbyn @UKLabour immediately even his own constituents want him out @georgegalloway #ResignKeithVaz pic.twitter.com/2DiUlg5ZFj— Mohammed Khan (@sarah_nowha1234) October 28, 2019
Vaz, who is married and was at the time the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee which was probing government drug policies, has always denied it was a sexual encounter.
But his account of the meeting - which took place at 11.30pm on a Saturday night - has been greeted with hoots of derision and outright mockery on social media.
The former Europe minister told the men he was a washing machine salesman called Jim and claimed later he thought they were decorators and had invited them to the apartment to discuss decorating it before he and his wife Maria could move in.
Keith Vaz, speaking about one of the prostituted young men he had previously paid to abuse: "what was— Julie Bindel (@bindelj) October 28, 2019
his name, you brought me the first time? [ … ] He was OK. He forgot the condom though. I had to f*** him without a condom.”
The Sunday Mirror claimed he invited the pair to the flat to engage in paid-for sex and offered to pay for cocaine for a Romanian who was due to join them.
We have full confidence in our brilliant MP Keith Vaz who has served us in an outstanding way for 32 years and we hope that he will make a speedy recovery from his illness which sadly he has been forced to acknowledge publically.— Leicester East Labour (@EastClp) October 28, 2019
The Sunday Mirror published photographs of the encounter as well as a transcription of an audio recording made on the night, in which a man believed to be Vaz mentions using condoms, cocaine and poppers (a recreational drug widely used by gay men).
Keith Vaz has been seen jumping for joy .... pic.twitter.com/XcEoTfHTV7— Mark Haywood (@MarkHay70931724) October 28, 2019
In the watchdog’s report they say: “Mr Vaz claims to have practically no recollection of what happened in the encounter with the two men. However, he has consistently maintained that the meeting was set up to discuss flat redecoration and that there is no evidence that the two men were ‘prostitutes’.”
Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, said: "I found Mr Vaz's account of the events that led to the media reports incredible. I found his reason for being unable to assist me fully with my inquiry implausible."
Vaz claimed he must have been given a "spiked drink" by the men but Ms Stone said this was "not believable and, indeed, ludicrous."
Ian Paisley was suspended for 30 sitting days. The standards committee recommends Keith Vaz be suspended for six months - the longest sanction since the Second World War. pic.twitter.com/34iK2XEIWi— PARLY (@PARLYapp) October 28, 2019
The report says: “Mr Vaz argues that the two men were not prostitutes but conmen. He has produced material which purports to support this interpretation, including a statement apparently made by the mother of one of the men denying that her son is a prostitute, and allegations of various scams carried out by the men in Poland. His conclusion is that ‘while the two individuals could accurately be described as conmen, it is quite wrong that they should ever have been described as prostitutes’.”
Her report said: "Mr Vaz has done his best to complicate, obfuscate and confuse the inquiry through arguments of little merit and documentation of dubious relevance.”
There has been widespread shock on social media that it took more than three years for the report to be published into the incident.
Remarkably Vaz’s local constituency party in Leicester East has stood by him and tweeted their support for him continuing as their MP.
If MPs vote to approve the committee's recommendation, Vaz could face a by-election if a recall petition is supported by 10 percent of his constituents.
Such was the case with Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who was forced to stand down in Peterborough after being jailed for lying over a speeding ticket.
1148 days after my complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, they have has upheld my complaint into Keith Vaz, his conduct during the enquiry shows he is not fit to represent anywhere in Parliament, Leicester deserves much better than this.— Andrew Bridgen (@ABridgen) October 28, 2019
Vaz was born in Aden, then part of the British Empire, but his family originate in Goa, India.
A former solicitor in London, he became MP for Leicester East in 1987, when he was 30, and has retained the seat ever since.
Vaz, who is independently wealthy and owns several properties, is a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee and has remained close to Jeremy Corbyn despite his past as a Blairite junior minister.
Ms Stone has recommended he be suspended but it is not clear if he would be able to stand as MP at the forthcoming general election.
Message from Jim the washing machine man pic.twitter.com/IQ28rxAYQF— Darryl Baker (@Daz1954) October 28, 2019
She claimed the audio recording contained evidence of Vaz's “apparent willingness to purchase controlled drugs for others to use" and she said he had caused "significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons and of its members generally."
Vaz published a statement on his website on Monday, 28 October, in which he said: “The events of 27 August 2016 were purely personal and private, and occurred in circumstances where neither Mr Vaz’s public nor his Parliamentary role were engaged.”
It goes on to say: "Mr Vaz has never bought, possessed, dealt with or used illegal drugs. He has a cardiovascular condition which would mean that were he to consume any non-prescribed drugs he would in all likelihood die. The Commissioner has confirmed that Mr Vaz has not committed any criminal acts…The transcript of the recording which the Committee and Commissioner rely on has been completed discredited by a highly qualified forensic scientist, who has cast considerable doubt on its reliability."
The statement on the website goes on to say: "Keith Vaz has been treated for a serious mental health condition for the last three years as a result of the events of 27 August 2016…He has nothing further to say on this matter.”
Vaz was admitted to hospital on Monday, although it is not clear what is the nature of his condition.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will come under pressure to remove the whip from him but may choose not to in the run up to a general election.