Owen Paterson: What happens now after Tory MP resigns after sleaze row?

By standing down the Conservative MP for North Shropshire has potentially defused a growing crisis for the Prime Minister who was facing a furious backlash from his own MPs over the way the affair had been handled.

The move – which narrowly passed yesterday – triggered outrage across the House of Commons with opposition parties refusing to cooperate on plans for a new committee which would set up a new appeals process for MPs found guilty of breaking rules.

Owen Paterson who has has resigned as the MP for North Shropshire (Victoria Jones/PA)

/ PA Wire

So what happens now to Owen Paterson?

Mr Paterson’s resignation immediately ends his political career. Until he announced he would be standing down, ministers were drawing up plans to give MPs a free vote – perhaps as early as next week – on whether to confirm Mr Paterson’s suspension, which was recommended last month after he was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules.

A vote on Mr Paterson will no longer be needed, the Government confirmed on Thursday afternoon, but in his resignation statement he maintained his innocence and spoke of the strains the process had placed on his family. Following last month’s ruling by Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary standards commissioner, Mr Paterson said the two year investigation had contributed to his wife Rose’s suicide.

What will happen to his seat?

Mr Paterson’s decision to resign will trigger a by-election in his North Shropshire constituency, a safe Tory seat which he won with a 22,000 majority in the 2019 General Election. But while the Conservatives are unlikely to lose, Labour and the Lib Dems are likely to use the election to ram home their claims that Mr Johnson’s Government is mired in sleaze. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s response to Mr Paterson’s resignation hinted at how they might fight the campaign.

“This has been an unbelievable 24 hours even by this government’s chaotic standards,” Sir Keir said. “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.”

Will the review of the parliamentary watchdog still go ahead?

Although Mr Paterson has taken his future into his own hands, MPs will still need to unpick the amendment on Wednesday which set in train a review of the parliamentary watchdog.

That could be scheduled for Monday or Tuesday next week – before Parliament rises for a week long recess – and would scrap the previous proposals to establish a new committee chaired by the former Culture Minister John Whittingdale. That committee was set to look at whether a new appeals process for MPs should be introduced.

While some opposition MPs agree the watchdog needs reform, they objected to the composition of the committee which would have handed the Conservatives the casting vote on any proposals to restructure the body.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Thursday that any new proposals would need cross party consensus. So while the original plan will be unwound, it could be weeks until proposals on a new system is put forward.

Does this mean Kathryn Stone is safe in her job?

For now, yes. The Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng raised serious questions over her future early on Thursday when he said she should consider her position.

That led to accusations that the Government was trying to bully Ms Stone out of her job as standards commissioner. The Labour chair of the standards committee Chris Bryant rode to her defence saying: “There is no question – the Commissioner has my full backing and should remain in post.”

And the commissioner’s office made clear in a statement that she would be serving her full term which is not due to finish until December 2022.

That raises the prospect of fresh embarrassment for Mr Johnson that she will now open an investigation into who paid for the Prime Minister’s flat refurbishment. If she does it would be the fourth time the watchdog has investigated Mr Johnson.


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