SNP MP John Nicolson has been cleared of accusations he bullied former minister Nadine Dorries by a Westminster standards panel.

The party’s media spokesperson has successfully appealed an earlier finding of Parliament’s standards commissioner which found “liking” and retweeting unpleasant posts about the former culture secretary amounted to bullying and harassment.

Dorries accused Nicolson of bullying after he had tweeted, liked, or retweeted disparaging material about the Tory MP 168 times over a 24-hour period in November 2021.

During that period, he had liked tweets which described “Dorries as ‘grotesque’, a ‘vacuous goon’, and as having been ‘rag-dolled’ by him during parliamentary exchanges,” according to the new report published on Tuesday.

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Nicolson’s case has now been heard by a number of different parliamentary standards watchdogs, having first been referred to an investigator appointed by the Westminster Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, and then the standards commissioner who disagreed with the findings of the first official.

The MP appealed the findings of the commissioner to the Independent Expert Panel, who on Tuesday announced they had “set aside” the official’s judgment and cleared Nicolson of bullying claims.

The panel said the commissioner had failed to consider Nicolson’s tweets in the context of the “political system” and that Parliament’s bullying rules had to give regard for criticism and scrutiny of the Government.

Its report stated: “Nicolson’s actions could not properly be shown to have breached the bullying and harassment policy.

“That policy had to be interpreted so as not to preclude vigorous opposition to Government, or vigorous defence of government policy and actions.

“Such is our political system. Parliament must have intended that the policy should be interpreted consistently with that system.”

Appeals of this type, the report noted, are commonly kept anonymous but in this case the panel felt it appropriate to name both Dorries and Nicolson because of the public nature of the spat.

The report said: “This is a very unusual case under the bullying and harassment policy.

“The complainant and the respondent have had no private relationship. Neither has been the employee of the other.

“They are neither of them colleagues, save that both were Members of Parliament at the relevant period.

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“The complaints arose entirely from their relationship as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and spokesperson on that portfolio for the Scottish National Party, respectively.

“During the relevant period, there were no private communications between them, written or oral.”

It added: “The actions complained of have all been in public, or published on Twitter […] In an ordinary case, the published decision would maintain the anonymity of the complainant.

“However, that is impossible here. Both the narrative of events and the outcome would be incomprehensible otherwise.

“In any event, the identity of the complainant would be immediately apparent to any interested person, however bowdlerized an account of the facts was given.”

Dorries and Nicolson were approached for comment.