A British Member of Parliament has faced cross-party commendation and calls to resign after blocking a law that would increase protections for children vulnerable to female genital mutilation (FGM).
Christopher Chope, a Conservative lawmaker who infamously blocked progress last June on proposals to ban upskirting – the practice of filming up people’s clothing to see their genitals or underwear – halted the FGM amendment as it was due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday.
He has been met with near-universal condemnation from MPs, with some fellow Conservatives suggesting he should be ousted from the party.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Twitter he was “outraged” by Chope’s move, while Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the action was a “complete disgrace.”
Chope said “object” as the Commons prepared to debate an amendment to the UK’s Children Act on Friday, that would have allowed courts to issue protection orders if they suspect a child is at risk of FGM.
His objection meant the bill could continue through further debates and towards royal assent, which is necessary for it to become law.
“We need action on our rules to ensure Parliament is a modern functioning part of our democracy. And if there’s any MP that needs deselecting / unseating then it must be #ChristopherChope,” Conservative MP Anna Soubry wrote on Twitter in response.
“It’s time he considered his position,” Conservative backbencher Simon Hoare added.
And David Lammy, an MP in the opposition Labour Party, wrote: “Why get into politics to do this? Christopher Chope embodies a brand of thoughtless, regressive conservatism which can ruin lives.”
Almost 2,000 children were classified by social workers as having undergone or being at risk of FGM in the UK last year, though the true number is likely to be far higher.
Chope: Critics are ‘virtue-signaling’
Chope, the MP for Christchurch in southern England, has become notorious for blocking the progress of several bills with overwhelming support from lawmakers.
Last June he stopped progress on proposals to ban upskirting after a lengthy campaign by a victim of the practice, to cries of “shame” from other MPs. Upskirting was eventually banned last month.
He has been criticized for objecting to the pardoning of World War II code-breaker Alan Turing, who was castrated for homosexuality and later committed suicide, and for attempting to stall a debate about the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 football fans lost their lives.
Chope has repeatedly said his objections to bills are to ensure they receive a fuller debate, rather than to signal his disapproval to their substance – though he does not lobby an objection to every private member’s bill.
“His argument is that he simply wants Bills properly debated. But it is a pretence,” Zac Goldsmith, who co-sponsored the FGM amendment, wrote on Twitter. “If today’s Bill goes through, we will have Committee Stage, Report Stage and Third Reading – all of which involve scrutiny and debate.”
“In case anyone is tempted to believe he has a principled objection to Private Member’s Bills, please note that once again he did NOT object to those put forward by his friends,” Goldsmith added.
Chope has not responded to a CNN request for comment, but has accused his critics of “virtue signaling” over the issue, according to the Press Association.
FGM is ‘ruining lives’
FGM, the practice at the heart of the debate, appears to be on the rise in the United Kingdom.
Social workers carrying out assessments in 2017-2018 classified 1,960 children as either having undergone or being at risk of FGM.
The figure marks a sharp rise from the previous year, when 970 cases were identified.
And the true number of at-risk children is likely to be far higher as the practice remains widely under-reported, according to the Local Government Association (LGA), which carried out the study.
The findings demonstrate “the worrying prevalence of FGM, which is ruining lives and destroying communities,” said Anita Lower of the LGA.
Earlier this month, a mother-of-three became the first person to be found guilty of FGM in the UK, in a landmark verdict.