Keith Vaz, the longest-serving Indian-origin MP in the House of Commons, has announced his retirement from Parliament after 32 years in the wake of a drugs scandal.
Vaz had been the Labour Party's MP for Leicester East since 1987 but announced in a statement overnight on Sunday that he would not be seeking re-election in the December 12 General Election. "I have decided to retire after completing 32 years as the Member of Parliament for Leicester East. In that time, I have won eight general elections," Vaz said in a statement posted on his website. "It has been an honour and a privilege to serve my constituency since I came to the city in 1985. I want to thank the people of Leicester East for their absolute loyalty and support. Leicester and especially the people of Leicester East will always be in my heart," said the 62-year-old Goan-origin politician.
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the veteran MP for his "substantial and significant contribution to public life" as part of a pioneering group of black and Asian Labour MPs elected in 1987. "He has helped to pave the way for more BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people to become involved in politics," said Corbyn. "His work in Parliament has been exemplary, as Britain's first Asian origin minister, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, a campaigner on Diabetes issues and most recently trying to help the peace process in Yemen. And our work together to combat racism and bring our diverse communities together is far from over," the Opposition Leader added. Vaz had played a prominent role in the India-UK relations over the years and hosted numerous Indian ministers and MPs during their visit to Britain. He had been selected as the Labour Party's candidate for next month's election but it must now find a replacement in time for the Thursday deadline for finalising candidates.
The announcement comes in the wake of the Commons voting through the parliamentary watchdog's recommendation to suspend the MP for six months after finding he had "disregarded" the law when he "expressed willingness" to purchase cocaine for male prostitutes a few years ago.
The Parliament Standards Committee chairperson, Kate Green, had said that she had written to ask the Leader of the House in the next Parliament to bring forward the suspension again, if Vaz was to be re-elected, so that he would have to serve the full six months. In a strongly worded report last month, the Commons watchdog had said there was "convincing evidence" that Vaz was "evasive or unhelpful" during an investigation into his conduct.
Vaz issued a statement soon after denying the allegations and saying he had been admitted to hospital due to ill health. He revealed he had been suffering from a serious mental health condition for the last three years as a result of the events and insists that he fully cooperated with the parliamentary inquiry. "Vaz vigorously rejects the allegation that he has failed to cooperate with the inquiry: to the contrary, he holds the standards system in the highest regard and with the highest respect," his earlier statement noted. The MP had been caught up in a scandal around his private life in 2016 following newspaper headlines linking him with male escorts. At the time, he had issued a public apology and stepped down as the head of the influential House of Commons' Home Affairs Committee.