Rees-Mogg backed Paterson in sleaze saga as he was 'punished enough' by wife's death

16 November 2021, 14:18

Jacob Rees-Mogg on the Owen Paterson saga: 'I must take my share of responsibility for this.'
Jacob Rees-Mogg on the Owen Paterson saga: 'I must take my share of responsibility for this.'. Picture: Alamy

Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted he encouraged Boris Johnson to save former Tory MP Owen Paterson from suspension because he felt he had been "punished enough" by his wife's suicide.

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The House of Commons leader said it had been a mistake to conflate the wider issue of standards reform with the specific case involving the former North Shropshire MP Mr Paterson.

Mr Paterson was found to have breached lobbying rules in relation to two companies which were paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Allies launched a defence of Mr Paterson and former minister Dame Andrea Leadsom proposed a Commons amendment – which Mr Johnson ordered Tory MPs to support – that would have reviewed his specific case, allowing him to avoid suspension, as well as setting up a committee to look at the whole standards system.

But following a vicious backlash, and opposition parties refusing to co-operate, the government made a U-turn, prompting Mr Paterson's resignation.

The amendment would have been rescinded on Monday night but Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope blocked it, with the Commons debating the matter today.

Speaking on his The Moggcast podcast, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I must take my share of responsibility for this. I thought it was the right thing to do, I encouraged the prime minister to go down this route, and I was wrong, I made a mistake."

Mr Rees-Mogg said that "in hindsight" it was a "really obvious mistake to have made".

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He added: "I felt that Owen had been punished enough by the death of his wife, and therefore allowed this conflation to take place in my mind."

Mr Paterson's wife, Rose, took her own in life last year and the former MP had suggested this was, in part, due to the investigation against him.

But Mr Rees-Mogg said: "It was not seen by the electorate as being merciful, it was seen as being self-serving."

However, he insisted that he had been approached by MPs from all parties with concerns about the standards systems.

He said: "There was a more general feeling beyond Conservative MPs that things weren't working quite as they should and that left Members of Parliament at the sharp end of a system that was weighted against them.

"And whether that's right or not, that was the feeling that was being represented to me."

Mr Rees-Mogg also said there was a difficult discussion about second jobs and the wider debate about whether they should be allowed.

For confidential emotional support at times of distress, contact Samaritans at any time by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org