Tory Owen Paterson quits as MP hours after humiliating government U-turn on sleaze rules

4 November 2021, 14:33 | Updated: 4 November 2021, 17:11

Owen Paterson has resigned after the Government U-turned on its support for him
Owen Paterson has resigned after the Government U-turned on its support for him. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP after he was found by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have broken lobbying rules.

He quit hours after the government was forced into a humiliating U-turn over planned reform of Parliament’s disciplinary system

The Conservatives had voted against suspending him for 30-days after the standards committee found his actions were an "egregious" breach of the rules on paid advocacy by MPs.

But on Thursday, the Government U-turned on backing him after a huge backlash – with Mr Paterson now deciding to step down.

Boris Johnson said he was "very sad" to see him go.

Read Owen Paterson's statement at the end of this article

The Tory had been backed by his party after the standards committee found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies that paid him more than £100,000 a year.

A total of 250 Conservatives backed him in Wednesday’s vote, with 232 voting against. The vote was supposed to trigger a review of Mr Paterson's case.

Read more: Government makes U-turn over anti-sleaze rules for MPs amid major backlash

Read more: Tory MP: 'Optics aren't great' on move to save Owen Paterson from suspension

But it led to fury among politicians, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branding it "corruption… there is no other word for it" while the party's deputy Angela Rayner accused the Tories of "wallowing in sleaze".

The Government then performed a rapid U-turn on Thursday, following the backlash, before Mr Paterson said he would resign.

In a statement, Mr Paterson, who represents the North Shropshire constituency, said the last two years had 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 everyday and the world will always be grey, sad and ultimately meaningless without her."

He added that recent days had been "intolerable" and claimed that MPs had mocked his wife's death.

Mr Paterson added it was a privilege to have represented his constituents for the last 24 years, and that he would remain a "public servant but outside the cruel world of politics".

Boris Johnson said he was "very sad" to see his "friend and colleague of mine for decades" leave Parliament.

"He has had a distinguished career, serving in two cabinet positions, and above all he has been a voice for freedom - for free markets and free trade and free societies - and he was an early and powerful champion of Brexit.

"I know that this must have been a very difficult decision but I can understand why - after the tragic circumstances in which he lost his beloved wife Rose - he has decided to put his family first."

Earlier, Downing Street denied the bid to change the standards process was a “preemptive strike” on Standars Commissioner Kathryn Stone to protect Boris Johnson’s interests.

Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former adviser, made the claims on Twitter, but the No10 official spokesman rejected the idea.

Asked if Mr Johnson felt he had made a mistake in backing Mr Paterson and railing against the Commons’ standards process, the spokesman said: "The Prime Minister fully recognises the strength of feeling in the House and that there is not cross-party support for the changes that were seeking to be made, and therefore understands that it's right to change the approach and to decouple those two issues."

Owen Paterson's statement in full:

"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 everyday 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."