04 November 2021

Owen Paterson resigns as MP rather than face fresh vote on suspension amid Tory sleaze row

04 November 2021

Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP after Boris Johnson U-turned to allow a fresh vote on the former minister’s suspension for an alleged breach of lobbying rules.

The senior Tory announced his resignation on Thursday after the Prime Minister was forced into a retreat after preventing his immediate suspension by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system.

Mr Johnson had supported an attempt by Mr Paterson’s allies to review the sanction until opposition parties refused to take part in a “corrupt” Tory-led committee tasked with the review.

The Government whips were working to reschedule a vote on a six-week suspension for Mr Paterson after he was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

But rather than face what looked like a likely defeat, Mr Paterson said he had made the “painful decision” to resign as the MP for North Shropshire, triggering a by-election after a high-profile sleaze row.

“The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me,” he said in a statement.

“My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned.

“I maintain that I am totally innocent of what I have been accused of and I acted at all times in the interests of public health and safety.

“I, my family and those closest to me know the same. I am unable to clear my name under the current system.”

The seat is by no means a marginal, with Mr Paterson having beaten Labour there in 2019 by nearly 23,000 votes but the by-election will undoubtedly feature allegations of sleaze.

Conservative MPs expressed anger over the affair after Mr Johnson ordered them to back the controversial move just a day before his U-turn.

The climbdown came shortly after Lord Evans, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, condemned the plans as being “deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy”.

Moments later, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced ministers would seek “cross-party” changes to the system after acknowledging a “certain amount of controversy”.

He also said the “link needs to be broken” between reforms and the case of Mr Paterson.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said ministers were “seeking to bring forward a vote in the House as soon as possible”.

But Mr Paterson beat them to the punch by resigning.

Tory MPs had been ordered to vote for the controversial plans on Wednesday, leading to Angela Richardson being sacked as a parliamentary private secretary to Cabinet minister Michael Gove when she chose to abstain.

On Thursday she said she was “pleased to be reappointed” after the U-turn.

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