MP Bim Afolami proud of making history with paternity leave proxy vote

21 February 2019, 16:22 | Updated: 21 February 2019, 18:35

"I spent this morning texting some colleagues at 7am, and my colleagues responded - all of them with a version of 'why are you texting me at 7am?"

"I said I've been up two-and-a-half hours worrying about the state of British politics."

An ordinary start to the day for an MP in extraordinary times - but one Conservative, Bim Afolami, will get a break from soon.

He is due to take paternity leave, becoming the first male MP to be given a proxy vote, meaning he can safely spend his time well away from Westminster.

Mr Afolami told Sky News he is looking forward to not working at a "million miles an hour" and getting "time to think" as he helps bring up his third child in the family's Hertfordshire home.

He has been unabashed about taking parental leave, making a video to warn his constituents they might see him around a little less while he supports his "amazing" wife.

"It's about saying you can be busy and ambitious and take paternity leave," the 33-year-old MP told Sky News.

"I'm busy and ambitious, and I took it."

He will go down in history as following Tulip Siddiq, who became the first woman MP to be given a proxy vote while on maternity leave.

It means MPs can have a colleague vote on their behalf, rather than fret about their absence impacting on a crucial result or being forced to travel into parliament.

The rules were changed last month after a long campaign led by Labour's Harriet Harman and the Liberal Democrats' Jo Swinson.

Mr Afolami has vowed he will still respond to constituents.

He said it was important to him to be vocal about the decision to take parental leave because people who do not "feed the myth that to be a real man in the work place you don't take baby leave, you keep your head down".

"It's worth just appreciating that women have had to deal with this for a long time - being a female MP with young children is harder than being a male MP with children," he added.

Mr Afolami also revealed he had a "giggle" when the original scan showed his new baby would be born on 29 March - the day the UK is due to leave the EU.

"No, no, no we are not calling the baby Brexit, I think that would be a bit much," the Remain-supporter who will back the Brexit deal confirmed.

What is he looking forward to most?

"Having the time to walk a newborn around the garden, trying to get them to sleep means that you get a bit of perspective, a bit of time to think rather than being a million miles an hour," he said.

Mr Afolami did warn against some calls to abolish the proxy voting system that means MPs need to be there in-person and replace the system with electronic voting.

The conversations between MPs, ministers and opponents in the voting lobbies are crucial, he said, especially on a subject as divisive as Brexit.

"MPs really need to work together. You do that when you're in the lobbies.

"If you weren't voting in the lobbies you'd be sitting in your office, pressing a button.

"And that happens in American politics and they don't spend time with each other.

"As a result they don't get to know each other as well, you don't get to build relationships, build alliances, and move things forward."