Owen Paterson, the Tory MP engulfed in a paid lobbying scandal, has quit parliament after a chaotic 24 hours in which the government first defended him before U-turning and suggesting his case would not be reviewed.
“I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics,” the Conservative MP for North Shropshire said. “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.”
Tory MPs were whipped to vote for an amendment on Wednesday that rejected the recommendation of suspending Paterson for 30 days. But the government today climbed down from their original controversial position.
Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested this morning that any new system would not apply to Paterson, but instead only to “future cases”, as the House of Commons leader said MPs felt it should not be “applied retrospectively”.
Responding to Paterson’s resignation, Keir Starmer said: “This has been an unbelievable 24 hours even by this government’s chaotic standards.
“Only yesterday Boris Johnson was forcing his MPs to rip up the rules on standards in public life is a truly damning indictment of this Prime Minister and the corrupt government he leads.
“Boris Johnson must now apologise to the entire country for this grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend. This isn’t the first time he’s done this but it must be the last.
“And Boris Johnson must explain how he intends to fix the immense harm he has done to confidence in the probity of him and his MPs.”
Paterson was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules. He was being paid over £110,000 a year – on top of his MP’s salary – to act as a consultant for the two companies that he was found to have wrongly promoted.
The 30-day suspension recommended by the parliamentary standards committee would have triggered a recall petition, which if signed by 10% of eligible registered voters in the constituency would have prompted a by-election.
Below is the full statement released by Owen Paterson announcing his decision to resign.
“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.”