Former Tory justice minister Crispin Blunt has retracted his statement questioning the conviction of his MP colleague Imran Ahmad Khan.
Mr Blunt also apologised and offered to quit as chair of a parliamentary LGBT+ rights group for his comments after Khan, MP for Wakefield, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008.
Khan was thrown out of the Conservative Party following the verdict on Monday but Mr Blunt initially described it as a “dreadful miscarriage of justice” and “nothing short of an international scandal”.
Those comments attracted fierce criticism and pressure for a retraction and by Tuesday morning his tweet and a statement about the case on his website had been deleted.
In a statement withdrawing the remarks, Mr Blunt said: “On reflection I have decided to retract my statement defending Imran Ahmad Khan.
“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.
“To be clear I do not condone any form of abuse and I strongly believe in the independence and integrity of the justice system.
“It is a particularly difficult time for LGBT+ rights across the world and my statement risks distracting the APPG [All Party Parliamentary Group] for Global LGBT+ Rights from its important purpose.
“I have today offered the officers my resignation so a new chair can be found to continue the work of the group with full force.”
Earlier, a Conservative Party source had described the initial views expressed by Mr Blunt as “wholly unacceptable” and said the party expected the statement to be retracted.
James Heappey, the armed forces minister, told Sky News that the comments were “not something the government associates itself with”.
Asked whether Mr Blunt would have the whip removed, Mr Heappey said that was “for people to look at today as they speak to Crispin, find out what this is all about”.
Labour MP Chris Bryant said the whip should be removed, telling Sky News: “It is completely inappropriate for a member of parliament to start attacking the judicial process like this.”
He drew parallels with the case of Charlie Elphicke – the former Tory MP jailed in 2020 for sexual assault – which he said had seen a series of Conservative colleagues “weigh in on his behalf”.
Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, shadow leader of the Commons, told Sky News: “I think the Conservative party should be distancing themselves from him very, very fast if he doesn’t also make amends for the damage that he’s doing to rape and sexual assault victims everywhere.”
Khan’s conviction means a by-election in the marginal red wall seat of Wakefield is now highly likely.
If the convicted sex offender is sentenced to more than a year in prison, he will automatically be disqualified from being an MP and lose his seat.
A shorter custodial term will lead to a recall petition where voters can choose to kick him out.