Education minister Nadhim Zahawi has admitted the government made a mistake in its handling of the Owen Paterson debacle.
The government came under fire for blocking the suspension of Conservative MP Owen Paterson by calling for the rules used to police MPs to be overhauled after Parliament’s lobbying watchdog accused the former minister of “serious breaches” to its standards.
In a rapid reversal 65-year-old Paterson last night resigned from his post as MP for North Shropshire and a government minister has today apologised for the handling of the incident.
“I’m absolutely able to say to you we did make a mistake and its right to move very quickly within 24 hours and say actually you know what we shouldn’t have conflated those two things. That is a mistake,” Nadhim Zahawi said in comments to BBC Breakfast.
“Rightly your viewers will be saying ‘why did you make that mistake?’ All I can say is that I am sorry. We made that mistake, but it was right to move quickly and actually its much more human,” he added.
“I would prefer a leader that is able to come back and reflect and actually come back and say we’ve made a mistake than one that just simply ploughs on ahead,” continued Zahawi.
On Wednesday Conservative whips urged MPs to vote against Paterson’s suspension from parliament, but dozens disobeyed on the basis that the parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone had ruled that Paterson broke lobbying rules during his work for clinical diagnostics firm Randox and manufacturer Lynn’s Country Foods.
Paterson was paid £100,000 a year by the two firms and contacted the Food Standards Agency, a regulator, on behalf of these firms at least 10 times without declaring 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”.
Owen Paterson continues to deny allegations of wrongdoing. The former environment secretary said his children urged him to quit the “cruel world of politics” after the government backtracked in its support for him.