Conservative MPs have turned their ire on a colleague, Christopher Chope, for prolonging the sleaze scandal engulfing the party by blocking the ratification of a report that found another backbencher breached lobbying rules.
The government tried to avoid drawing attention to the vote on Owen Paterson, so shunted it until 10pm on Monday and tabled a type of motion only one person needed to oppose in order for it to fall.
But a lone cry of “object!” came from Chope, leaving several in the Commons – including the deputy speaker, Nigel Evans, chairing proceedings – visibly stunned.
Chope is a veteran backbencher – and objecter. He has caused plenty of problems for the Conservatives before by being the sole person to shout “object!” and kill off private members’ bills on issues such as blocking upskirting and female genital mutilation. He also objected to a global women’s conference taking place in the Commons and a posthumous pardon to codebreaker Alan Turing following his homosexuality conviction.
The first move prompted someone to hang female underwear over the door of his Commons office, and he was criticised by the then-prime minister Theresa May.
Chope’s argument is that he does not necessarily disagree with the contents of bills he objects to, but disagrees with the principle of motions being passed without debate – which is what the government hoped would happen on Monday night to spare its blushes.
He has previously insisted he has been “scapegoated” and called the characterisation of his actions a “travesty of the truth”.
While his past interventions have sparked fury from some Tories, he faced a tidal wave of anger this week for blocking the Paterson report, meaning a debate will have to be held on it on Tuesday. Many other MPs believe they will now continue to have their own financial affairs, second jobs and expenses claims closely scrutinised.
Ministerial aides have called Chope an “absolute twat” in private WhatsApp messages seen by the Guardian – and these are among the less explicit exchanges being shared as the fallout continues.
Attention is now turning to his political future.
Chope first joined the Commons representing Southampton Itchen in 1983 – the second general election won by Margaret Thatcher, whom he served as a junior minister under in the environment department. He narrowly lost his seat in 1992 but returned as the MP for Christchurch and East Dorset in 1997 – and has enjoyed a large majority ever since that currently stands at about 25,000.
Given Chope occupies a safe constituency and has shown no intention of quitting despite proving a persistent irritant to the government, some hope he will be forced to stand down.
One minister told the Guardian that “the executive are livid” and said “the man should retire”. They added: “The question is whether Chope’s implosion will be shorter or longer than Paterson’s.”
A former frontbencher complained that “the fact we can’t deselect these people is baffling”, and expressed hope this time that Chope would be shunted out.
The Tory whips’ are aware of Chope’s record but are understood not to have expected him to put them in such a bind by objecting on such a sensitive motion. However, a government source admitted: “Nobody is surprised, given his form in this area.”
Chope has not held a government post in nearly 20 years – and instead been a continual thorn in ministers’ side as a staunch Brexiter on the Department for Exiting the European Union select committee.
He is an honourary vice-president of the Thatcherite group Conservative Way Forward, and last month criticised the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, for his budget, saying it “flew in the face of so many real Conservative principles”.