MP in firing line quits ‘cruel world of politics’

Owen Paterson resigns as MP

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The former Northern Ireland Secretary – who had faced being kicked out of Parliament for 30 days – said of his plans for a new life: “I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics.” Mr Paterson, 65, who had been an MP for 24 years, was judged by Parliament’s independent sleaze watchdog to have broken lobbying regulations while performing his £110,000-a-year private sector work.

His fellow Conservative MPs had been ordered by the Prime Minister to back a Commons motion on Wednesday to ignore Mr Paterson’s month-long suspension.

But in a major public backlash, the Government was accused of “corruption” by seeking to overhaul Parliament’s standards rules in an effort to protect him.

After the outcry, the PM performed a humiliating U-turn yesterday, promising a renewed vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension.

Rather than face what looked like a likely defeat, the Shropshire North MP said he had made the “painful decision” to resign, triggering a by-election.

Mr Paterson was first elected for the seat in 1997 and held it at the 2019 general election by nearly 23,000 votes.

The Tories will now have to defend a third by-election this winter, following the cancer death of James Brokenshire and the murder of Sir David Amess.

Mr Paterson referred in a statement to last year’s suicide of Rose, his wife of 40 years, which he has linked to the lobbying probe: “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.” The Prime Minister said: “I am very sad that Parliament will lose the services of Owen Paterson who has been a friend and colleague of mine for decades.”

Mr Johnson continued: “He has had a distinguished career, serving in two Cabinet positions, and above all he has been a voice for freedom – for free markets and free trade and free societies – and he was an early and powerful champion of Brexit.

“I know that this must have been a very difficult decision but I can understand why – after the tragic circumstances in which he lost his beloved wife Rose – he has decided to put his family first.”

Some of Mr Paterson’s Tory MP allies also paid tribute to him, with Andrew Rosindell saying that his resignation was a “huge loss to Parliament and to politics in our country”.

While Peter Bone said: “I think it shows exactly how Owen feels at the moment. And it’s so very, very sad to have to go through all this and lose your wife through suicide.

“And I completely understand why he’s decided to stand down. And he’s very, very unhappy with the way the system works.”

Fellow Tory backbencher Michael Fabricant expressed his hope that “all the major political parties can now work together to reform the broken system which investigated Paterson’s case.

“Justice must always be seen to be done and it was not in this case with a one-woman judge and jury.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the Prime Minister to apologise to the whole country for a “chaotic” 24 hours and for his “grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend”.

Mr Paterson has been a paid consultant for clinical diagnostics company Randox since 2015 and to meat distributor Lynn’s Country Foods since 2016, earning a total of £112,000 a year on top of his annual £80,000 MP’s salary.

Last month the MPs Standards Committee concluded that he “repeatedly used his privileged position” to benefit the two firms.

Mr Paterson has continually declared himself “not guilty” and criticised the lengthy investigation into his private sector positions, which he said saw him raise serious issues about food contamination during his contact with Government officials.

Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, indicated she had no intention of resigning following criticism of the way she handled the investigation.

MPs are allowed to have jobs like Mr Paterson’s outside the Commons but they are not permitted to be paid advocates by using their influence in Whitehall for a company’s benefit.

Ex-chief whip Mark Harper, one of 13 rebel Tories who voted to defy the PM’s original orders, said the furore was “one of the most unedifying episodes” he had seen in 16 years in Parliament: “My colleagues should not have been instructed, from the very top, to vote for this. This must not happen again.”

Mr Paterson was made Northern Ireland Secretary in 2010, then moved to be Environment Secretary in 2012. After leaving the Government in 2014 he was a strong supporter of withdrawing from the EU.

Rose was chairman of Aintree Racecourse. The couple had three children.

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