Prime Minister backtracks on Owen Paterson suspension over lobbying for Sheffield United sponsor Randox

Boris Johnson has watered down controversial plans to overhaul the disciplinary process for MPs and review a senior Tory’s alleged breach of lobbying rules after widespread outrage.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 11:43 am

Tory backbencher Owen Paterson was handed a six-week suspension last month for lobbying the Government on behalf of both healthcare firm Randox – which sponsors the shirts of Sheffield United – and food manufacturer Lynn’s Country Foods.

However, on Wednesday, the Government voted in favour of overhauling the standards process – which would see Paterson’s suspension blocked.

The amendment sparked a nationwide backlash, with the Tories being accused of “ripping up the rulebook” and “stitching up the standards system” in order to help one of their own MPs.

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Former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson in the House of Commons, London, as MPs debated an amendment calling for a review of his case after he received a six-week ban from Parliament over an "egregious" breach of lobbying rules. PA Wire

Today (November 4), in a Government “U-turn” in response to the backlash, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would seek “cross-party” changes to the system after Labour and other opposition parties refused to take part in what it said would be a “corrupt” standards committee following the amendment.

And he suggested any changes may not “apply retrospectively”, meaning that the amendment would no longer enable Paterson’s suspension to be blocked.

Mr Rees-Mogg’s announcement to MPs came as an ethics adviser to the Prime Minister described Wednesday’s votes as a “very serious and damaging moment for Parliament”.

Lord Evans, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said plans for a Tory-led review into the disciplinary process for MPs as being “deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy”.

The Commons Leader recognised that standards must be reformed on a cross-party basis as he acknowledged “that is clearly not the case” with the Government’s proposals.

“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 apply retrospectively,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

“I fear last night’s debate conflated an individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken.

“Therefore I and others will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases. We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussions.”