A motion to suspend ex-minister Owen Paterson for 30 days will come back before parliament next week, after a 24-hour Boris Johnson U-turn over the fate of the Tory MP.
A vote to veto Paterson’s suspension and dismantle the standards process for MPs was rammed through parliament by the government yesterday in a move that was described as “corrupt” by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
A series of votes saw the Tories not suspend Paterson for breaching lobbying rules, as recommended by the independent standards commissioner Kathryn Stone, and then create a new standards committee to instead hear his case.
The committee would have been made up entirely of Conservative MPs, after opposition parties said they would not take part in a body that was likened by Labour to a “kangaroo court”.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a series of interviews just this morning that Stone should consider quitting from her role as standards commissioner for MPs.
A Downing Street spokesperson said today that all votes that happened yesterday will be reversed and that “we will move a vote on that individual [Paterson] case and then we’ll be seeking cross party agreement on the broader appeals process”.
Conservative MP Mark Harper said: “This is one of the most unedifying episodes I have seen in my 16 years as a member of parliament. My colleagues should not have been instructed, from the very top, to vote for this. This must not happen again.”
A senior Tory MP said to City A.M. that “we’re making Yorkshire cricket look like a well run organisation”.
Another Tory backbencher said a lot of MPs who are close to Paterson will feel “very bitter and angry” by Johnson’s U-turn.
Rees-Mogg said in the House of Commons this morning that any change to standards processes would need to have cross-party support to work.
“Last night’s vote has created a certain controversy. It is important that standards in this house are done on a cross-party basis,” he said.
“The house voted very clearly yesterday to show it is worried about the process of handling these complaints and we would like an appeals system, but the change would need to be on a cross-party basis and that is clearly not the case.
“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the house that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case or applied retrospectively.”
Starmer wrote in the Guardian yesterday: “We have a prime minister whose name is synonymous with sleaze, dodgy deals and hypocrisy. This is the man who allows his ministers to breach with impunity the codes that govern public life; who thinks it should be one rule for him and his chums, another for everyone else.”
Parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone ruled last month that Paterson broke lobbying rules during his work for clinical diagnostics firm Randox and manufacturer Lynn’s Country Foods.
He was paid £100,000 a year by the two firms.
Paterson contacted the Food Standards Agency, a regulator, on behalf of these firms at least 10 times and did not declare his lobbying activities, according to Stone.
Westminster’s Standards Committee said Paterson’s “actions were an egregious case of paid advocacy, that he repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the House into disrepute”.
Paterson, a former shadow cabinet minister, claims he only contacted the Food Standards Agency to warn them about potentially harmful products and that Stone’s investigation was biased.
He also claims that the investigation played a part in his wife’s suicide last year.