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Tory MP Owen Paterson resigns after u-turn on MP conduct plans

Paterson called the last two years an "indescribable nightmare"

By Emma Kelly

Owen Paterson sitting in the Commons
Owen Paterson in the Commons (Picture: House of Commons/ITV News)

Tory MP Owen Paterson has resigned following a government u-turn on plans to change the policing of MPs’ conduct following major backlash from the public and Labour MPs.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced this morning (November 4) that the government has dropped its plans for a retrospective overhaul of the rules, just hours after it had been voted through. 

Hours later, Mr Paterson confirmed he was resigning as MP for North Shropshire, calling the last two years “an indescribable nightmare”.

His statement read: “I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire.

“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. She was everything to my children and me. We miss her every day and the world will always be grey, sad and ultimately meaningless without her.

“The last few days have been intolerable for us. 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. I would like to thank my staff who have worked for me so loyally over many years. I also want to thank those who have stood by me so staunchly. I wish them all the best in that difficult but vital job of being a member of parliament.

“I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics. I intend to devote myself to public service in whatever ways I can, but especially in the world of suicide prevention.

“At this incredibly difficult time for my family, we ask that the media respects our privacy and lets us grieve my beloved Rose, the best person I ever met.”

Jacob Rees Mogg in House of Commons
Jacob Rees-Mogg announced a u-turn this morning (Picture: House of Commons)

On Wednesday, an overhaul of the standards watchdog was voted through by a margin of 18 votes, and the suspension of former minister Paterson was blocked [via BBC News].

Tory MP Paterson had been found by the Commons Standards Committee to have broken lobbying rules and misused his position as an MP to benefit two firms he worked for.

Mr Paterson, who has denied any wrongdoing, was found to have committed an “egregious” breach of standards rules by directly advocating for the two companies. 

The committee and its commissioner recommended that Mr Paterson be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days, a sanction that could possibly lead to a recall petition in his constituency. 

While recommendations like these, which must be signed off by MPs, are usually accepted, the government ordered its members to vote for an amendment to halt Mr Paterson’s case and overhaul the standards system.

Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems voted against the plans, along with 13 Conservative MPs, while dozens of Tories abstained, with the motion carried by 18 votes. 

Cries of “shame” were heard from the opposition benches after the debate, and the move caused a revolt in the Commons, with ministerial aide Angela Richardson being fired yesterday (November 3).

Now, Ms Richardson has been reinstated as Michael Gove’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Mr Rees-Mogg said today: “It is important that standards in this House are done on a cross-party basis.

“The House voted very clearly yesterday to show that it is worried about the process of handling these complaints and that we would like an appeals system, but the change would need to be on a cross-party basis and that is clearly not the case.

“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case or apply retrospectively.

“I fear last night’s debate conflated an individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken. Therefore I and others will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases. We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussion.”

Mr Rees-Mogg had himself backed the change to the standards watchdog.

Prior to the u-turn, Labour leader Keir Starmer said that the Tories were “wallowing in sleaze” and that the move would “further undermine public faith in politics at a time when we should be trying to restore decency and honesty”.

The SNP’s Pete Wishart had accused the government of “attempting to turn back the clock to the worst examples of 1990s Tory sleaze”.

Kathy Burke was among celebrity stars outraged by the move, tweeting today following the u-turn: “Can I have a scam sandwich please Mr Paterson? #TorySleaze.”