Former Tory MP suspended from Commons over role in lobbying sting as Rishi Sunak faces fresh by-election headache

27 February 2024, 19:33 | Updated: 27 February 2024, 19:53

Former Tory MP Scott Benton has been suspended from the Commons.
Former Tory MP Scott Benton has been suspended from the Commons. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Former Tory MP Scott Benton has been suspended from the Commons over his involvement in a lobbying sting meaning Rishi Sunak faces the prospect of yet another by-election.

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MPs approved a motion to suspend Blackpool South MP Scott Benton from the Commons for 35 days on Tuesday.

Mr Benton, who was elected as a Conservative but now sits as an independent, was found to have breached Commons rules after he was caught offering to lobby ministers and table parliamentary questions on behalf of gambling investors.

His suspension is in excess of the 10-day threshold, meaning it will trigger a recall petition in his constituency of Blackpool south and potentially a by-election.

For this to happen, 10% of eligible voters in the constituency would need to sign a recall petition, which would be open to them for six weeks once instigated by a local returning officer.

Mr Benton appealed against both the finding and the suspension, but in a report published last week an independent panel upheld the Standards Committee's original decision, saying there had been "no procedural flaw" in the process.

He had had the Tory whip removed last April after he suggested he would be willing to break lobbying rules for money.

Mr Benton lost his appeal against his 35 day Commons ban last week.

The Commons standards watchdog previously concluded that Mr Benton had committed a "very serious breach" of lobbying rules.

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It was recommended that MPs back a 35-day suspension, which Mr Benton attempted to appeal.

But the Independent Expert Panel said it was upholding the suspension.

"Mr Benton referred himself to the Commissioner after details were published in April 2023 of a meeting between Mr Benton and undercover reporters of The Times newspaper who were posing as representatives of a fictitious company," it said in a statement.

"The Committee found, in a report published on 14 December 2023 that in this meeting, Mr Benton made statements that indicated he had breached the House’s rules in the past, would be willing to breach or circumvent rules again on behalf of the company in return for payment and that other Members behaved in a similar manner."

"Mr Benton appealed the Committee’s decision that he had breached the Code of Conduct and their decision on sanction. The IEP sub-panel dismissed Mr Benton’s appeal and his sanction of 35 days suspension, with the concomitant loss of salary, stands."

It follows a series of devastating blows in by-elections that have left Mr Sunak's party staring down the barrel of a massive defeat in the future general election.

Earlier this month the party lost two Tory stronghold seats to Labour in Kingswood and Wellingborough, overturning two massive majorities.

If a by-election is called in Blackpool south the Conservatives would be defending a slim majority of 3,690 votes over their nearest opponents, Labour, from whom they took the seat in 2019.

Such a defeat would make it the 11th time the Government has lost a seat in a by-election since the start of the current Parliament in 2019.