Owen Paterson resigns from ‘cruel world of politics’ after Johnson U-turn

PM had promised new vote in standards in public life row after heavy backlash

Boris Johnson has ditched plans to overhaul the standards system for MPs. File photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA Wire

Boris Johnson has ditched plans to overhaul the standards system for MPs. File photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA Wire

 

Former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP after Boris Johnson abandoned a plan to save him from being suspended from parliament for breaking rules on paid lobbying. The prime minister ordered Conservative MPs to vote on Wednesday night to dismantle the entire parliamentary standards system and to overturn a cross-party committee’s verdict on Mr Paterson’s behaviour.

But on Thursday morning, following a backlash from Conservatives and after opposition parties refused to take part in any new system, House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced a full U-turn, promising a vote next week to reverse Wednesday’s vote and to proceed with Mr Paterson’s suspension. Hours later Mr Paterson, who has been MP for North Shropshire since 1997, said he had decided to leave parliament.

“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,” he said.

A two-year investigation by Kathryn Stone, the commissioner for standards in public life, found that Mr Paterson broke the rules by lobbying ministers and officials on behalf of two companies that were paying him more than £100,000 a year. During the investigation, Mr Paterson’s wife, Rose, took her own life, an event he blames partly on her fear that the couple would be disgraced and ruined by it.

Former cabinet minister Owen Paterson in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire
Former cabinet minister Owen Paterson in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire

“I do not want my wife’s memory and reputation to become a political football. Above all, I always put my family first,” he said.

“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.”

‘Grubby attempt’

Mr Johnson praised Mr Paterson’s career as a politician but said he understood his decision. But Labour leader Keir Starmer blamed the prime minister for the chaotic events of the previous 24 hours.

“Boris Johnson must apologise for the grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend. It’s not the first time he’s done this but it must be the last. He must also explain how he will fix the immense harm he has done to confidence in the probity of him and his MPs,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Jonathan Evans said Mr Johnson’s attempt to scrap the regulatory system at Westminster suggested that complacency had set in after the MPs’ expenses scandal.

“It cannot be right to propose an overhaul of the entire regulatory system in order to postpone or prevent sanctions in a very serious case of paid lobbying by an MP,” he told the Institute for Government.

“Events of yesterday confirm our view that we are at the point of the cycle where it’s time to look again and to reassess. It’s time to re-establish our commitment to credible, independent regulation of the ethical standards of public office holders.”