Ministers are usually expected to step down if they’re found guilty of embezzlement, financial or moral corruption or sexual misconduct. However, a British minister, who had not committed any of these crimes, resigned from the House of Lords in the middle of a debate — just for being late.
Michael Bates, a minister at the Department for International Development (DfID), was “ashamed” of not arriving at the House of Lords on time, missing a scheduled question he was meant to answer.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies to Baroness Lister for my discourtesy in not being in my place to answer her question on a very important matter at the beginning of questions,” Lord Bates said.
For his “discourtesy,” the conservative peer, who believes in responding to the questions of the legislature in the “highest possible standards of courtesy and respect,” then offered his resignation.
“I’m thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place and therefore I shall be offering my resignation to the prime minister with immediate effect. I do apologize,” he said.
The dramatic scene did not end here. Bates picked up his papers and walked out amid loud shouts of “No!” from others in the House. Several even tried to stop him from leaving.
Baroness Angela Smith, Labor’s Leader in the House of Lords, said Bates’ apology was “perfectly sufficient.” She immediately asked the minister to take his resignation back. “It was a minor discourtesy that any of us could be guilty of.”
Ruth Lister, a Labor peer — whose questions on income equality Bates was supposed to answer — also wrote a note to Bates convincing him to reconsider his decision.
“Of all the ministers I’d want to cause to resign, he’d be the last,” she said. “The response from our benches was a sort of spontaneous ‘no.’ I’m not sure we’d respond to many other ministers in that way.”
Bates' resignation for missing a question took many by surprise. While some lauded him for sticking by his principles, others thought it was “over the top.”
Toby Young:— James Felton (@JimMFelton) January 31, 2018
"I once dressed as a women in an attempt to assault lesbians. No of course I don't resign."
"My mistake could land a British citizen 7 more years in Iranian jail. Fuck you, I'm staying."
"Sorry I'm late everybody I resign with immediate effect." pic.twitter.com/FLJvom7RHw
Loving Lord Bates for such high standards. If only all the men in Parliament who have harassed women would resign. Then we could fill it with women instead - that would be a real renovation.— Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) January 31, 2018
Some responses were hilarious.
If we all have to resign for being a little bit late to things then I'm completely screwed. https://t.co/RAKDUrvUcH— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) January 31, 2018
Just like Lord Bates, I was late, but coming to the kitchen to do the drying up...so out of respect, I have walked out of the kitchen. #lordbates— James Wren (@jameswren1975) January 31, 2018
Some people were suspicious that there is another side to the story.
There has got to be more to #lordbates resignation than being late to questions?— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) January 31, 2018
Lord Bates apology for not being on time to answer questions from the dispatch box, missing a question from Labour’s Baroness of Burtersett is a little over the top in my opinion.— Layton (@Layton01214) January 31, 2018
I wonder how long before the real reason for his resignation surfaces. #LordBatespic.twitter.com/NrE2ZthIbe
Later on Wednesday, a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street told journalists that Bates’ resignation was not accepted by Theresa May.
“With typical sincerity, Lord Bates today offered to tender his resignation after missing the start of an oral questions session in the House of Lords, but his resignation was refused as it was judged this was unnecessary.”
Bates, “who received support” from across the chamber, reconsidered his decision and retracted his resignation.
“…we are pleased that he has decided to continue in his important roles at the Department for International Development and HM Treasury,” the 10 Downing Street spokesperson said.
People were quick to respond to the development.
Pleased to hear the resignation of #LordBates has not been accepted, he is decent man and a diligent Minister to work with. Lord Bates's resignation over lateness rejected by PM https://t.co/jKjLZkDBzI— Floella Benjamin (@FloellaBenjamin) January 31, 2018
Lord Bates is back! He has persuaded not to resign after all by Number 10. All is well in the world again.— Kate McCann (@KateEMcCann) January 31, 2018
Perhaps the best reaction that summed up the whole incident was this:
Update: If you resign for being late your boss will reject the resignation. You can now all be late into your job every day. If your boss disputes this, refer them to Theresa May's decision in the case of Lord Bates. pic.twitter.com/OOSzzWFH2R— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) January 31, 2018