Tory MPs vote to scrap sleaze watchdog after Owen Paterson scandal


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The government has pushed through an amendment to save a Tory MP who was found guilty of lobbying for cash.

Ex-minister Owen Paterson wrote to government departments and secured meetings for two companies he was paid more than £100,000 a year by.

An independent report found he had flagrantly breached the rules, a verdict upheld by a cross-party committee, and he was suspended for 30 days, a move which would make a by-election likely. 

But Tory MPs hijacked the vote to approve the suspension by attaching an amendment which will begin the process of scrapping the watchdog and replacing it with a new system.

It will also lead to a review of Mr Paterson’s case despite an investigation finding he was responsible for ‘bringing the House into disrepute’ and ‘an egregious case of paid advocacy’.

Boris Johnson confirmed ministers would back the move earlier today, prompting Labour’s Angela Rayner to compare him to Donald Trump.

She said the prime minister’s party was ‘wallowing in sleaze’ and the Scottish National Party (SNP) described it as a ‘kangaroo court’.

The government’s plan is already in danger of unraveling after both Labour and the SNP said they would boycott any new committee.

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The Tory party has been accused of returning to the days of ‘cash for questions’ after it voted to spare a long-standing MP immediate suspension (Picture: PA)

The vote passed by 250 to 232 after government ministers order their MPs to back it. Just 13 Tories opposed it.

It is unprecedented for the House of Commons to reject the findings of a standards investigation and the vote upends the ways corruption and malpractice allegations are handled.

Committee chair Chris Bryant said: ‘The definition of injustice is you change the rules in the midst of the process. 

‘This would create a special system for one person and is completely unfair.’

Mr Paterson, who disputes the allegation, believes the nature of the investigation contributed to his wife’s suicide in June 2020.

Cries of ‘shame’ and ‘what have you done to this place’ could be heard from opposition MPs after the result was announced.

It remains to be seen what will replace the current standards process but Mr Bryant defiantly told the Commons the committee still exists and will be meeting on Tuesday morning as planned.

Earlier in the day, Mr Johnson told the Commons the vote was not about Mr Paterson’s conduct, but instead the process.

Mr Johnson has had his own run in with the sleaze watchdog he is now allowing to be scrapped (Picture: PA)

He said: ‘The issue in this case, which involved a serious family tragedy, is whether a member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations in this case and whether, as a matter of natural justice, our procedures in this House allow for proper appeal.’

Mr Johnson in effect ensured the end beginning of the end for a standards system which was probing his own conduct just six months ago.

The prime minister wasn’t found guilty of any wrongdoing but was given a dressing down by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for not being sufficiently open with investigators over a Caribbean holiday.

It eventually emerged that a Tory donor had provided the PM with accommodation in Mustique valued at £15,000 when he went on holiday over New Year in 2020.

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