Uncommon courtesy: British lord arrives late for work, is so ‘thoroughly ashamed’ he resigns on the spot

Lord Michael Bates, a UK government minister, said his failure to ‘rise to the highest possible standards of courtesy’ meant he would have to quit with immediate effect

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 8:52am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 February, 2018, 7:15am

For anyone who has ever arrived late to work, an apology will usually suffice. But for one British lord, it was too late to just say sorry.

It took less than 60 seconds for government minister Michael Bates to arrive late, apologise profusely, offer his resignation and then leave the House of Lords on Wednesday.

“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,” the international development minister said, standing up in front of his peers.

“During the five years in which it’s been my privilege to answer questions from this dispatcher [sic] box on behalf of the government, I’ve always believed that 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,” he continued.

I am thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place and therefore I shall be offering my resignation … I do apologise
Lord Michael Bates

“I am 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 apologise,” said Bates as he gathered his belongings and swiftly exited the chamber.

Witnessing an apology turn into a resignation in a matter of seconds was simply too much for Bates’ stunned peers, including members of his Conservative Party and opposition Labour members alike.

In the dramatic video, other politicians can be heard exclaiming “No!” from their seats. While some laughed in disbelief, others attempted to reach out and pull Bates back to the chamber.

After Bates’ resignation, Baroness Smith of Basildon of the Labour Party interrupted the beginning of another speech to say: “An apology from Lord Bates is perfectly sufficient. It was a minor discourtesy of which any of us can be guilty of on occasion.”

Labour’s Baroness Lister said she has asked Bates to reconsider his decision.

“Of all the ministers I’d want to cause to resign, he’d be the last,” she said.

Bates had been due in the chamber at 3pm to answer a scheduled question from Lister on income inequality but arrived a couple of minutes late. In his absence the question was answered by the Lords chief whip, John Taylor.

It is believed Bates might have been caught out because the usual prayers that delay proceedings slightly had instead been held that morning.

However, it looks like he will continue in his post after his resignation was refused. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said: “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 was MP for Langbaurgh from 1992 to 1997, has held a series of junior ministerial roles since entering the Lords. In 2016 he stepped down as a Home Office minister to take a leave of absence from the chamber and undertake a 3,200km charity walk across South America.

Additional reporting by The Guardian