Owen Paterson resigns: Conservative ex-minister quits as MP after row over House of Commons suspension

Owen Paterson will resign as the MP for North Shropshire in order to escape “the cruel world of politics” following a furious row over his proposed ban from the House of Commons.

The Conservative former cabinet minister has been at the centre of a scandal after it was recommended he be suspended for 30 days.

Mr Paterson, who has been an MP for 24 years, was found by parliament’s independent sleaze investigator to have broken lobbying rules during his £110,000-a-year private sector work.

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs – with the encouragement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – passed a motion in favour of ignoring Mr Paterson’s month-long Commons suspension.

As part of the backlash, the government was accused of “corruption” in seeking to overhaul parliament’s standards rules in an alleged effort to protect the Tory MP.

In the face of a huge outcry, the government performed a U-turn in the row on Thursday with the promise of a new vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension.

But, just hours later, the 65-year-old announced his intention to resign from the House of Commons.

“I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire,” he said.

Analysis by Jon Craig, chief political correspondent

“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.”

Mr Paterson was last month found by a Commons watchdog to have “repeatedly used his privileged position” to benefit Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.

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

Mr Paterson has also said the investigation into him “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life in June last year.

In his resignation statement, he maintained that he “acted at all times in the interests of public health and safety” and claimed the current standards system in parliament would leave him “unable to clear my name”.

“Far, far worse than having my honesty questioned was, of course, the suicide of my beloved and wonderful wife, Rose,” he added.

“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. 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.”

Mr Paterson admitted his decision to resign was “painful” but “the right one”. His resignation will trigger a by-election in North Shropshire, a seat he won with a near-23,000 majority at the 2019 general election.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded an apology from the prime minister following the Westminster row over Mr Paterson’s suspension.

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

“Boris Johnson must now apologise to the entire country for this grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend.

“This isn’t the first time he’s done this but it must be the last. And Boris Johnson must explain how he intends to fix the immense harm he has done to confidence in the probity of him and his MPs.”

Paterson scandal evokes 'Tory sleaze' of 1990s

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said Mr Paterson’s resignation was “a direct consequence of this Conservative government choosing to involve itself in standards business as it did yesterday… but it clearly had not been thought through in terms of the consequences”.

Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell described Mr Paterson’s resignation as a “sad day” and said his fellow Tory politician would be “a huge loss to parliament and to politics in our country”.

“A man of integrity and principle who deserved better than this,” he added on Twitter.

“I regret the way he has been treated. I wish him and his family peace and happier times ahead.”

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,” he added.

Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmer’s Union, told Mr Paterson, a former environment secretary, that he had been “an outstanding supporter of British agriculture”.

“I don’t have words to express my extreme sadness at your decision to step down,” she tweeted.

“Thank you so much for all that you have done.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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