PM accused of 'colossal misjudgement' in Owen Paterson row

Commons sleaze meltdown: Tory MPs accuse PM of ‘colossal misjudgment’ and ministerial aide QUITS after he orders them to overturn lobbying verdict against Owen Paterson – while standards chief rejects calls to quit and Labour boycotts new system

  • Ex-minister Owen Paterson was facing a 30-day suspension from Parliament
  • A standards probe found he had breached House of Commons rules on lobbying 
  • Mr Paterson blasted way the probe was conducted and denies any wrongdoing
  • His allies, backed by Boris Johnson, succeeded in blocking the suspension
  • Tory MPs voted to review Mr Paterson’s case and to overhaul standards process 

Boris Johnson is facing meltdown today as Tory MPs accuse him of ‘colossal misjudgment’ in overturning the lobbying verdict against ex-minister Owen Paterson. 

The PM smashed convention by ordering his party to oppose the conclusions of the Commons standards watchdog, which said Mr Paterson should be suspended for 30 days.

But the amendment ‘pausing’ the process and calling for a reform of the sleaze rules  still only narrowly passed last night, as he was hit with a major revolt – including ministerial aide Angela Richardson quitting. 

The move has sparked complete chaos, with the existing system for regulating MPs’ behaviour in tatters and Opposition parties vowing to boycott the government’s plans to agree a new one.

It is unclear what will happen to the eight politicians – including Cabinet minister Therese Coffey – who are currently being probed for breaches.

Three of those under investigation voted for the amendment to put the sleaze system on hold.  

Parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone has indicated she has no intention of resigning – despite Mr Paterson calling for her to step down and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying this morning that it is ‘difficult to see’ her future.

Mr Paterson, Tory MP for North Shropshire, was found to have committed an ‘egregious’ breach of standards rules by directly advocating for two companies from which he pocketed some £500,000. 

He continues to deny any wrongdoing. 


Owen Paterson (right) was among the Tory MPs who voted yesterday block his own suspension after Boris Johnson (left) issued orders 

A defiant Kathryn Stone (pictured) has indicated she will stay on as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for another year, despite the pressure from Mr Paterson’s camp

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying this morning that it is ‘difficult to see’ Ms Stone’s future – although he stressed it is a matter for her to consider

Tory Angela Richardson has revealed she has left her job as a ministerial aide over the vote

Owen Paterson was found to have committed an ‘egregious’ breach of standards rules as he lobbied for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year. Mr Paterson, pictured with his late wife Rose, claimed the ‘biased’ way the standards inquiry was carried out was a major factor in her suicide last year

What has Owen Paterson been accused of and what has he said? 

Owen Paterson was censured by the Commons standards watchdog last week for a series of breaches of lobbying rules on behalf of two companies he was paid to advise. 

Why do Mr Paterson’s supporters think he has been wronged? 

Allies of Mr Paterson claim it was ‘so amateurish it failed to interview witnesses’. 

They claim that he had 17 witnesses ready to give oral evidence on his behalf but complained they were never called. The Standards Committee however, pointed out that each of the 17 had supplied it with comprehensive written statements  and ‘did not see what further ‘relevant information could usefully be gleaned by inviting oral evidence from the witnesses concerned’.

Supporters believe the current standards system is flawed and must be overhauled to give MPs the ability to appeal.  

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said there are flaws that ‘should not be allowed in any system of justice, let alone one that is central to the operation of our democracy’.

He said MPs currently have ‘no effective right of appeal’ because ‘this is a standards system where one person is chief investigator and prosecutor combined’.

Tory MPs want to replace the current standards system with a quasi-judicial process and a ‘proper’ appeal system. 

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs said the right of appeal is ‘fundamental to the provision of justice, which is regrettably not genuinely provided by the matter coming to the floor of this House’. He also claimed Paterson was acting as a whistleblower, discussing matters with government officials that ‘save lives’. 

Who is supporting him and what are they trying to achieve? 

Dame Andrea Leadsom, the Tory former Cabinet minister, tabled an amendment – later passed – blocking the suspension of Mr Paterson and overhaul the House of Commons’ standards process.  

The amendment has been signed by dozens of Tory MPs. They are: Andrea Leadsom, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Robert Halfon, Richard Drax, Anne Marie Morris, Dr Jamie Wallis, Bob Stewart, Gary Sambrook, Duncan Baker, Damian Green, David Jones, Pauline Latham, Julian Sturdy, John Howell, Richard Bacon, James Gray, Laurence Robertson, Sir Robert Neill, Craig Mackinlay, Mark Menzies Philip Dunne, Shailesh Vara, Sir Robert Syms, Dr Liam Fox, Sir Roger Gale, Dehenna Davison, Derek Thomas, Julian Knight, Jeremy Hunt, Sir Paul Beresford, Sheryll Murray, David Morris, Andrew Mitchell, Crispin Blunt, Sir William Cash, Simon Baynes, Robert Buckland, Sir Desmond Swayne, Lee Anderson, Chris Grayling, Huw Merriman, Nusrat Ghani, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Caroline Dinenage, James Duddridge, Mark Francois, Jake Berry, Chris Green, Sir Graham Brady, Sir Edward Leigh, Karl McCartney, Ben Bradley, Greg Smith, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Bob Blackman, Steve Brine, Fiona Bruce, Neil Parish, and Sir Greg Knight. 

Who was he working for? 

Mr Paterson became a consultant to clinical diagnostics firm Randox – which sponsors the Grand National horse race – in August 2015, a year after he left Government after serving as Secretary of State for northern Ireland and the Environment under David Cameron.

He has carried out a similar role for Lynn’s Country Foods, a processor and distributor of meat products including ‘nitrite-free’ items, since December 2016.

Both firms are based in Northern Ireland and between them him more than £112,000 a year on top of his £80,000 annual MP salary. 

What is he said to have done? 

Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone found that he breached paragraph 11 of the 2015 MPs’ Code of Conduct that prohibits ‘paid advocacy’ – when he made three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and testing for antibiotics in milk in November 2016 and November 2017

Emails to the FSA read like marketing pitched on behalf of the firm, mentioning ‘Randox’s superior technology’ in helping identify problems. 

He went on to suggest that ‘once established the application of the technology could be discussed not just within the FSA but across the whole dairy industry,’ something from which the company stood to make large sums of money. 

The hardline Brexiteer broke the same rules by making seven approaches to the FSA for Lynn’s Country Foods in November 2017, January 2018 and July 2018 regarding a rival ‘global food producer (who) was acting in breach of EU law by mislabelling a product’.

And the same rules were breached in in October 2016 and January 2017 when he made four approaches to ministers at the Department for International Development relating to Randox and blood testing technology.

Ms Stone also found that Mr Paterson had breached paragraph 13 of the 2015 MPs’ Code of Conduct, on declarations of interest, by failing to declare his interest as a paid consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods in four emails to officials at the FSA on 16 November 2016, 15 November 2017, 8 January 2018 and 17 January 2018.

Lastly, she found that Mr Paterson breached paragraph 15 of the 2015 MP’s Code of Conduct, on use of parliamentary facilities, by using his Westminster office on 16 occasions for business meetings with his paying clients between October 2016 and February 2020; and in sending two letters, on 13 October 2016 and 16 January 2017, relating to his business interests, on House of Commons headed notepaper.

What punishment did he face? 

After receiving her report the Commons Standards Committee, made up of a cross-party group of MPs, recommended he serve a 30-day suspension that could trigger a recall petition in his seat. 

What does he say? 

Mr Paterson continues to deny any wrongdoing, saying he was acting on genuine concerns for public safety.

Ahead of the release of the investigation last week he made an astonishing attack on the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, claiming her ‘cruel’ probe in to his activities contributed to the death of his wife, Rose, who took her own life last year.

The 65-year-old North Shropshire MP believes the investigation against him was ‘biased’ and ‘an absolute denial of justice’.

After tonight’s vote he said: ‘The process I was subjected to did not comply with natural justice.

‘No proper investigation was undertaken by the commissioner or committee.

‘The Standards Commissioner has admitted making up her mind before speaking to me or any witnesses.

‘All I have ever asked is to have the opportunity to make my case through a fair process.

‘The decision today in Parliament means that I will now have that opportunity.

‘After two years of hell, I now have the opportunity to clear my name.

‘I am extremely grateful to the PM, the Leader of the House and my colleagues for ensuring that fundamental changes will be made to internal parliamentary systems of justice.

‘I hope that no other MP will ever again be subject to this shockingly inadequate process.’ 

Allies of Mr Paterson brought forward an amendment last night that blocked the suspension while his case is reviewed. 

It was backed by a majority of 18, but around 50 Tories rebelled.

Labour MPs could be heard shouting ‘shame and ‘what have you done to this place’ as the result was announced, but Mr Paterson doubled-down and insisted there was ‘no question’ he would do the same thing again.

He then told the Telegraph the commissioner and members of the Standards Committee should consider their position.

‘Sadly they have not done a good job and come up with a rotten report which is full of inaccuracies… [they] all have to go,’ he said.

There was fury among Tories over the decision to impose a three-line whip on an issue on which the Government has not traditionally interfered.

Hartlepool MP Jill Mortimer, who was elected in May, told fellow Red Wall MPs: ‘This was a colossal misjudgement.’

Fellow Tory Kevin Hollinrake, who voted against the motion, said MPs ‘cannot ever give the impression that the powerful are above the law’. He added: ‘It looks like a moving of the goalposts and powerful people are above the law.’

Father of the House, Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley ‘It’s a dark day for any faith in the integrity of our democracy.’

Conservative MP Nigel Mills, who rebelled ‘We get a result that we don’t like and then we seek to change the rules of the game so we can get a result we do like, and I don’t think that’s a good look.’

Tory MP Sir Gary Streeter, who abstained ‘This was a colossal misjudgment, it should not have been whipped.’ Hartlepool Tory MP Jill Mortimer ‘This is not consistent with the highest standards in public life, which it is essential we uphold if MPs are to be respected and enjoy public trust.’

Tory MP Stephen Hammond, who abstained ‘If the public believe that we are marking our own homework, our reputation individually and collectively will be tarnished.’

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Kwarteng pointed out that her personally had not voted – as he is in Glasgow for the COP26 summit.

But he said the situation was the ‘express will of Parliament’.

‘It’s not about the rights and wrongs of what Owen Paterson said or did or how he was paid,’ he told Sky News.  

‘I think the process is something that we want to look at, the fact is he had no right of appeal, and we feel that in terms of Parliament people should have a right of appeal as they do in most employments throughout this country.’

He said a right of appeal would be something all parties could rely on.

Mr Kwarteng was asked why the Government had not sought to change the rules prior to Mr Paterson’s case.

‘I mean, you’ll appreciate I’m sure that we’ve been talking about this for years,’ he said.

‘We’ve been talking about holding MPs to account, having the highest standards in public life, ways in which we can improve those standards and make people more accountable.’ 

Mr Kwarteng said it was ‘difficult to see’ what Ms Stone could do from here. 

‘I think it’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact that we’re reviewing the process, and we’re overturning and trying to reform this whole process, but it’s up to the commissioner to decide her position,’ he said.

Pushed on what he meant by ‘decide her position’, Mr Kwarteng said: ‘It’s up to her to do that. I mean, it’s up to anyone where they’ve made a judgment and people have sought to change that, to consider their position, that’s a natural thing, but I’m not saying she should resign.’

Tory peer Lord Hayward said one Tory MP who voted with the Government on Wednesday had later sent him a text message using the word ‘shambles’.

The pollster told Times Radio: ‘I’ve yet to find a clear explanation to how they’ve got themselves in this mess, and they have gotten themselves in a mess.’

He said he had ‘no doubt’ it would have an impact on Conservative voters, but he said: ‘I think it’ll probably be short-term, but it will have an impact on Boris Johnson’s rating, because this is the sort of thing which a number of voters actually have a suspicion about him, and the way he behaves, in what they would view as a somewhat cavalier manner in relation to natural justice.’

The chair of the Labour Party said the Government’s decision to ‘rip up the rulebook’ after the Conservatives tabled a motion rewrite the Commons disciplinary process is ‘corruption, plain and simple’ and Labour will have ‘no part in it’.

Anneliese Dodds told Times Radio: ‘We are completely against this attempt to effectively stitch up the standards system.

‘The Conservatives should be seeking to sort it out instead. We believe in strong parliamentary standards and a clean Parliament. We have always been clear on that.

‘We’re not going to have any part, or play any part in going backwards.

‘This is extremely damaging to public trust in Parliament and Labour instead wants to be building up that trust, not knocking it down.’

It comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote in the Guardian: ‘I am sick of people skirting around calling this out for what it is: corruption.’ 

Mr Paterson admitted last night he continues to work with Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods – the two firms at the heart of the scandal.

He is said to have made three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and testing for antibiotics in milk in November 2016 and November 2017.

The emails are said to have read like marketing pitched on behalf of the firm, mentioning ‘Randox’s superior technology’ in helping identify problems.  

Quizzed over his actions, the MP told Sky News: ‘No, I wouldn’t hesitate tomorrow. Absolutely.

‘When we found out about the milk I realised it was absolute dynamite. First of all it was very obvious that lives were at risk, and secondly, if it had been mishandled and had been leaked to keen media agents like you, we could have absolutely blown the UK dairy industry apart.

‘So I had absolutely no hesitation whatever in calling a meeting very rapidly. And if you look at the witness statements, they are grateful that I did do that.

‘As a result of those efforts, British milk is now safer. And we did it without disrupting the dairy industry. So I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again tomorrow, absolutely no question.’

Meanwhile it emerged on Wednesday night that he had earnt more than £500,000 from the two companies, including a sum of £112,000 which he takes home every year – £100,000 of which is from clinical diagnostics company Randox.

The other firm, Lynn’s Country Foods, has paid him £2,000 a month – for four hours’ work every other month – since January 2017.

Some 248 Tory MPs voted in favour of the amendment, along with ex-Tory and now independent MP Rob Roberts –  who was recently suspended himself for sexually harassing a male staff member – and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson. 

Some 13 Tory MPs voted against the amendment despite the Government instructing them to vote for it.  They were joined by 168 Labour MPs and 32 SNP MPs in opposing the move while 98 Tory MPs and 28 Labour did not record a vote.

While some of them will have been paired under voting rules coving MPs unable to attend Parliament, it shows the level of unrest in Tory ranks at the campaign. 

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland acknowledged it would have been better to seek reform to the standards system without it happening against the backdrop of the Paterson case.

‘I can understand the strength of feeling today but these difficult moments do allow us a chance to make a meaningful reform which I think will be better in the long run,’ he told ITV’s Peston.

Mr Buckland, a former member of the Standards Committee, added: ‘In a perfect world we should be doing this without events like the one of today. But this is how Parliament sometimes works, it’s imperfect.’ 

The amendment will create a new committee with a Tory majority which will make recommendations for a shake-up of the current standards system. It is due to report by February 3 next year. 

But Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have vowed to boycott the new body, meaning it risks being seen as Tories ‘marking their own homework’.

Some 13 Tory MPs voted against the amendment, along with 168 Labour MPs and 32 SNP MPs

Former victims’ commissioner who investigated Boris’s Mustique ‘freebie’

Kathryn Stone has proved a thorn in the side of senior MPs in her four years as Standards Commissioner. 

The former social worker investigated Boris Johnson’s holiday to Mustique last year and also set her sights on John Bercow, now-disgraced former Labour MP Keith Vaz and the DUP’s Ian Paisley Junior, for breaking parliament’s rules.

She replaced Kathryn Hudson in 2017, having previously served as Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland, a commissioner for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and Chief Legal Ombudsman. 

She earned the enmity of Mr Johnson last year when she investigated his controversial lavish Caribbean holiday with his now wife Carrie.

He was dramatically cleared of breaking Commons rules over the £15,000 Mustique ‘freebie’ after the Standards Committee over-ruled her finding that it breach the Code of Conduct. 

The cross-party committee found the PM had made an ‘accurate and complete’ declaration about the holiday in December 2019, saying it was a donation from Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross even though the couple did not stay in his villa.

Ms Stone had originally slammed the PM for ‘not showing the accountability required of those in public life’.

The report also suggested that the premier himself did not know exactly how the jaunt was being funded until after he arrived on Mustique and realised he was not staying in Mr Ross’s own property.

Following the Commons vote, Mr Paterson  – who voted for the amendment himself – said: ‘After two years of hell, I now have the opportunity to clear my name.’ 

Mr Paterson’s register of interests says he earns £12,000 a year from Lynn’s as a ‘consultant’ to the sausage processing and distribution company.

Since August 2015, he has worked as a consultant to Randox Laboratories, for which he initially earned £4,166 a month for eight hours’ work. This rose to £8,333 a month and his hours doubled to 16 a month in April 2017, the Committee on Standards said.

Its report, which relates to Mr Paterson’s conduct between October 2016 and February 2020, said his remuneration from Randox and Lynn’s amounted to nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary. As a backbench MP, Mr Paterson earns a basic annual salary of £81,932.

His work for Randox and Lynn’s means he has earned more than £500,000 since 2015 on top of his salary as an MP. Mr Paterson told the inquiry he did not have written contracts with the two firms, the report said.

Mr Johnson had signalled at PMQs at lunchtime that the Government intended to support the amendment as he was grilled by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner. 

He had questioned whether Mr Paterson had the ‘opportunity to make representations’ during the investigation as the premier backed calls for reform of the system.

Ms Rayner hit back and said that blocking the suspension of the former minister would show it is ‘one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us’.

Mr Paterson has angrily disputed the findings of the standards report, claiming the investigation was unfairly conducted. 

‘The commissioner in her report that was adopted… said the witnesses weren’t needed because their evidence they gave wasn’t relevant to the inquiry.

‘And that is an interesting view to come to, because other people might say: ‘How do you know whether it was relevant to the inquiry until you’ve taken their evidence and have found out the precise context of how things were done?’

As part of Dame Andrea’s proposals, MPs on the Conservative-majority committee led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale will examine whether the standards system should mirror that of investigations of misconduct in other workplaces, including the right of representation, the examination of witnesses, and the right of appeal.

The committee will comprise of Mr Whittingdale and eight other MPs – four Tories, three Labour and one SNP. 

Mr Whittingdale will have the casting vote in the event of a tie. 

The Leadsom amendment was vehemently opposed by Labour, with the party having repeatedly warned against trying to overhaul the system.

Thangam Debbonaire, shadow Commons leader, had said: ‘Let’s not forget that the cross-party standards committee, including three Tory MPs, endorsed the commissioner’s 30-day sanction for a breach of the rule around paid advocacy.’

She had said that ‘the Tories want to jettison the system that has served us well and which has been a vital part of rebuilding public trust after the dark days of Tory sleaze this Government seems determined to return to’. 

But Mr Rees-Mogg said there was ‘precedence’ for amending a motion to suspend an MP, saying it was last done in 1947. 

Sir Lindsay’s spokeswoman did not deny a report in The Times that suggested he believed blocking the suspension would bring the House into disrepute. 

Ms Stone’s investigation found Mr Paterson repeatedly lobbied on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods.

But the MP struck back, saying the investigation finding he breached rules on paid advocacy by MPs was a ‘biased process and not fair’.

Committee on Standards chairman Chris Bryant urged MPs to ‘read the report in full, with a fair and open mind’ and warned against voting it down in what would be an unprecedented move in the committee’s roughly 36-year history.

Disgraced MP Owen Paterson has earnt more than £500,000 from firms at the centre of lobbying scandal 

By Harriet Line, Chief Political Correspondent for the Daily Mail 

A defiant Owen Paterson insisted last night he would ‘do it again’ as it emerged that he had earnt more than £500,000 from two companies at the centre of the lobbying row.

The ex-Cabinet minister still earns £112,000 a year from the firms – £100,000 of which is from clinical diagnostics company Randox.

The other firm, Lynn’s Country Foods, has paid him £2,000 a month – for four hours’ work every other month – since January 2017.

Mr Paterson was found to have repeatedly lobbied on behalf of the firms but last night he defiantly stood by his actions, saying that by raising concerns about carcinogenic products in milk and ham he had ‘saved lives’. He told the BBC: ‘If it happened again this morning, I would do it again.’

He added on Sky he would have ‘no question’ doing the same again. ‘No, I wouldn’t hesitate tomorrow. Absolutely,’ he said.

And in a statement, he said: ‘The process I was subjected to did not comply with natural justice. No proper investigation was undertaken by the commissioner or committee.

‘After two years of hell, I now have the opportunity to clear my name. I hope that no other MP will ever again be subject to this shockingly inadequate process.’

Mr Paterson’s register of interests says he earns £12,000 a year from Lynn’s as a ‘consultant’ to the sausage processing and distribution company.

Since August 2015, he has worked as a consultant to Randox Laboratories, for which he initially earned £4,166 a month for eight hours’ work. This rose to £8,333 a month and his hours doubled to 16 a month in April 2017, the Committee on Standards said.

Its report, which relates to Mr Paterson’s conduct between October 2016 and February 2020, said his remuneration from Randox and Lynn’s amounted to nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary. As a backbench MP, Mr Paterson earns a basic annual salary of £81,932.

His work for Randox and Lynn’s means he has earned more than £500,000 since 2015 on top of his salary as an MP. Mr Paterson told the inquiry he did not have written contracts with the two firms, the report said.

The Standards Commissioner said she expressed ‘surprise’ to him and would have expected him to have written contracts. She added it was not clear ‘what duties were expected’ of him after the initial phase of his work for Randox or his work for Lynn’s.

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