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Owen Paterson resigns as MP after government U-turn on sleaze committee

Former Tory cabinet minister was found to have breached guidelines by lobbying on behalf of companies paying him more than £100,000

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 04 November 2021 15:10 GMT
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(PA)

Owen Paterson has dramatically resigned as the Tory MP for North Shropshire after being found to have breached lobbying rules, saying: “I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics.”

It comes after Boris Johnson’s government performed a screeching U-turn over the decision to block the former cabinet minister’s suspension with plans to create a Conservative-dominated committee to rewrite House of Commons sleaze rules.

Wednesday’s vote prompted widespread outrage, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branding it government “corruption” and the chair of the current Standards Committee describing it as the kind of action that might be expected in Russia.

As a result of the government climbdown on Thursday – less than 24 hours after ordering MPs to vote for new committee – Mr Paterson was again due to face a vote on the 30-day suspension recommended by Westminster’s standards watchdog after he was found guilty of lobbying ministers and regulators on behalf of companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Rather than face a fresh vote on a possible six-week ban, Mr Paterson, however, said he would resign as an MP, triggering a by-election in North Shropshire — a constituency he has represented for 24 years.

He last won the seat at the 2019 winter election with a considerable majority and over 62 per cent of the vote, with Labour’s candidate trailing behind in second place.

“I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire,” the former Tory cabinet minister said in a statement on Thursday.

Referring to the two-year investigation into his breach of the Commons code of conduct, he said: “The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me. 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.

“Far, far worse than having my honesty questioned was, of course, the suicide of my beloved and wonderful wife, Rose.”

Describing the past few days as “intolerable”, he also alleged: “Worst of all was seeing people, including MPs, publicly mock and deride Rose’s death and belittle our pain.

“My children have therefore asked me to leave politics altogether, for my sake as well as theirs. I agree with them. I do not want my wife's memory and reputation to become a political football. Above all, I always put my family first.

“This is a painful decision but I believe the right one. I have loved being the MP for North Shropshire and have considered it a privilege to have been elected to serve my constituents for 24 years.”

The Labour leader Sir Keir demanded an apology after Mr Paterson’s resignation, saying: “This has been an unbelievable 24 hours even by this government’s chaotic standards.

“Only yesterday Boris Johnson was forcing his MPs to rip up the rules on standards in public life is a truly damning indictment of this Prime Minister and the corrupt government he leads.

He added: “Boris Johnson must now apologise to the entire country for this grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend. This isn’t the first time he’s done this but it must be the last.”

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