Owen Paterson resigns as MP for North Shropshire after Government U-turn

Owen Paterson has resigned as the MP for North Shropshire while facing the prospect of being suspended after being found to have broken paid lobbying rules.

Owen Paterson was first elected in North Shropshire in 1997
Owen Paterson was first elected in North Shropshire in 1997

The Conservative former minister announced his decision hours after Boris Johnson U-turned and promised MPs a fresh vote on his suspension for an alleged breach of lobbying rules "as soon as possible".

It means a by-election will take place and a new MP will represent North Shropshire for the first time since 1997. The seat is ordinarily one of the safest Conservative constituencies in the country, with Mr Paterson having beaten Labour there in 2019 by nearly 23,000 votes.

An independent investigation found 65-year-old Mr Paterson broke parliamentary rules by repeatedly lobbying ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

Owen Paterson's wife Rose, who was chairman of Aintree Racecouse, committed suicide aged 63

The senior Tory announced his resignation on Thursday after the Prime Minister was forced into a retreat over plans to prevent his immediate suspension by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system.

Mr Johnson had supported an attempt by Mr Paterson's allies to review the sanction until opposition parties refused to take part in a "corrupt" Tory-led committee tasked with the review.

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Rather than face a fresh vote on a possible six-week ban, Mr Paterson said he would resign as an MP. In a statement he said his children had asked him to leave politics for the sake of the family after a "nightmare" two years which included the suicide of his wife Rose.

"The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me," he said.

"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."

Owen Paterson sits behind Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski in Parliament

Mr Paterson was first elected during the Blair landslide victory in 1997. He was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the Cameron government before returning to the backbenches where he was a vocal advocate of Brexit.

After a two-year investigation, he was last week found to have committed an "egregious" breach of the rules by lobbying on behalf of clinical diagnostics firm Randox and Lynn's Country Foods.

Randox paid him £99,996 a year and Lynn's paid him £12,000 - both at rates of around £500 an hour - on top of his MP's salary of £82,000.

The Commons Standards Committee found that Mr Paterson had repeatedly used his position to the benefit of the two companies and recommended he be suspended for 30 days.

However instead of approving the suspension, as is the norm, MPs voted on Wednesday to review the case and reform the disciplinary process. The Prime Minister had ordered Conservative MPs to do so - and thus delay any potential suspension of Mr Paterson - before changing his mind on Thursday after being accused of corruption and sleaze.

Owen Paterson was first elected in 1997

The climbdown came shortly after Lord Evans, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, condemned the plans as being "deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy".

Moments later, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced ministers would seek "cross-party" changes to the system after acknowledging a "certain amount of controversy".

He also said the "link needs to be broken" between reforms and the case of Mr Paterson.

A by-election could have been triggered if MPs approved the suspension and recall proceedings were launched, but Mr Paterson beat them to the punch by resigning.

Mr Paterson has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, saying he was acting in the public interest by raising legitimate concerns, and said that he would behave the same way again. He also said that the investigation played a major part in the death of his wife, who committed suicide aged 63 at the family home near Ellesmere last June.

The U-turn came after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was sent out to defend the changes for the Government on Thursday morning.

Labour accused him of trying to "bully" the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone, who carried out the investigation into Mr Paterson, into resignation after suggesting she should consider her position.

Mr Paterson's statement continued: "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."

Sir Keir Starmer called on the Prime Minister to apologise to the nation for "grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend".

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