LONDON — United Kingdom development minister Lord Michael Bates offered to resign, and then later rescinded that resignation, after arriving too late to the House of Lords to hear a question from another lawmaker — a transgression that even the opposition described as “minor.”
Bates’ decision to stay in his post capped a chaotic and confusing few hours which saw Bates suddenly offer to resign amid calls from all sides of the British political spectrum for him to stay in his job. After Prime Minister Theresa May’s office rejected Bates’ resignation, he then agreed to continue his work.
The whole incident caught Westminster off-guard. The minister of state at the Department for International Development had not been present in the House of Lords earlier in the day to respond to a question from Baroness Lister of Burtersett.
“My lords, with the leave of the House, I wonder if you’ll permit me 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,” Bates said.
He went on to say that in the five years he has served as minister of state, it has been “my privilege to answer questions from this legislature on behalf of the government.” Stumbling slightly in his speech, he continued: “I’ve always believed we should ... rise to the highest possible standards of courtesy and respect in responding on behalf of the government to the legitimate questions of the legislature. 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.”
Almost six hours later, a spokesperson for Number 10 confirmed that Bates’ resignation “was refused,” and that “he has decided to continue in his roles” at DFID and Her Majesty’s Treasury.
“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,” the Number 10 spokesperson said.
As a hard-working and diligent minister, it is typical of his approach that he take his responsibilities to Parliament so seriously. He has received support from across the House and we are pleased that he has decided to continue in his important roles at the Department for International Development and HM Treasury.”
Following Bates initial resignation in the House of Commons, Bates gathered his papers and quickly left the chamber. Politicians and members of the aid community alike expressed shock at the resignation. Bates, who has been DFID minister since October 2016, only yesterday tweeted plans for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April.
Politicians reacted with shock to the announcement, joining public pleas for Bates to reverse his decision.
Baroness Shas Sheehan, a Liberal Democrat told Devex she was surprised at Bates’ decision and said peers from “across the chamber, all parties” shouted “no” as Bates left the chamber.
“Lord Bates is well liked and respected across the House, being unfailingly well briefed and courteous at the dispatch box,” she said, adding that she believes Bates was not aware of the session’s earlier-than-usual start time, which was adjusted to accommodate the large number of speakers expected for the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“My own thoughts are that I hope he can be persuaded to change his mind. His was not a resignable offence, and he is being too hard on himself,” she said.
Shortly after Bates’ exit from the chamber, head of the opposition Baroness Smith of Basildon interrupted proceedings to say: “An apology from Lord Bates is perfectly sufficient and it was a minor discourtesy of which any of us could be guilty of on occasion.” Her comment was greeted by exclamations of “hear, hear.”
Another MP, who wished to remain anonymous, told Devex he was surprised by the news and said Lord Bates always “seemed to be in his element” when representing the government on development issues.
Bates has an extensive DFID remit, including the Caribbean Overseas Territories; the United Nations and Commonwealth; international financial institutions; Europe and trade; economic development and the UK’s development finance institution, the CDC; the cross-government Prosperity Fund; global partnerships; “inclusive societies” including disability, gender, aging, faith, LGBT, and violence against women and girls; value for money; building on the recent for-profit supplier review; and refining business case process and transparency releases. Bates is also minister for Abercrombie House, the DFID joint headquarters in Scotland.
His sudden resignation came amid a period of upheaval for DFID. Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt took over the department after Priti Patel’s resignation in November; while joint DFID and Foreign Office minister Rory Stewart unexpectedly departed the role during a cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago. Matthew Rycroft took over as the department’s new permanent secretary last week.
Reporter Sophie Edwards contributed reporting.
Update January 31, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect the news that Lord Bates' resignation was not accepted and he has agreed to continue in his job.