'It reeks of corruption': Enraged MPs attack Tories as Owen Paterson avoids suspension

3 November 2021, 20:44 | Updated: 4 November 2021, 07:13

Owen Paterson has avoided suspension following Boris Johnson's intervention.
Owen Paterson has avoided suspension following Boris Johnson's intervention. Picture: Alamy

By James Morris

Enraged opposition MPs have said the government "reeks of corruption" following its "nauseating" vote against the suspension of fellow Tory Owen Paterson over a breach of lobbying rules.

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In an unprecedented move today, Tory MPs voted not to back the House of Commons standards committee's call for a six-week ban from Parliament for Mr Paterson, after it found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

Following a vote of 250 Tory MPs to 232 opposition MPs, a review of Mr Paterson’s case was instead ordered.

One of the Tories who voted for it, Philip Dunne, told LBC “the optics aren’t great” but that Mr Paterson should not be “sacrificed through a flawed process”. He said that process “needs to be fixed”.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer simply tweeted tonight: “Corruption. There is no other word for it.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, using the vote to call for Scottish independence, said: “Boris Johnson’s government reeks of Tory sleaze and corruption.

“Today’s shameful episode proves, yet again, that Westminster is broken beyond repair.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said it was “nauseating to watch Tory MPs who have championed a benefits system with tough sanctions and few appeal rights for over a decade, throw out sanctions for a friend who broke Parliamentary rules by taking cash for access. Shame on them all.”

Former Tory MPs Anna Soubry and David Gauke, who left the party in 2019 amid the bitter Brexit fallout, also slated their former colleagues.

Ms Soubry said: “A truly shameful moment for the Conservative Party. A very dangerous moment for our parliamentary democracy.”

And Mr Gauke joked: “Another good day not to be a Conservative MP.”

Mr Paterson has said the move will allow him to clear his name after "two years of hell”.

He claimed he has not been able to "make my case through a fair process" and that "the decision today in Parliament means that I will now have that opportunity."

Owen Paterson pictured in December 2019
Owen Paterson pictured in December 2019. Picture: Getty

The MP for North Shropshire could have faced a possible by-election if the suspension had been approved.

Boris Johnson had placed Tory MPs under a three-line whip to support the amendment tabled by former Commons leader Dame Andrea Leadsom. He has questioned whether the investigation into Mr Paterson was fair.

There had been shouts of "shame" and "what have you done to this place" from opposition MPs as the House voted by the narrow majority of 18 to approve the amendment.

Some 13 Tory MPs did not vote for it.

Read more: British trawler freed as France backs down in Brexit fishing row

As well as reviewing Mr Paterson's case, the amendment calls for a Conservative-majority committee led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale to examine the standards system.

The committee was intended to include four other Tory MPs, three Labour MPs and one SNP MP.

But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the party will "not be taking any part in this sham process or any corrupt committee", with the SNP and Lib Dems also saying they would boycott it.