Owen Paterson quits as MP over lobbying row

Owen Paterson quits as MP over lobbying row

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP after a row over his conduct led to a government U-turn.

The Conservative MP was found to have broken lobbying rules and was facing suspension, until fellow Conservative MPs blocked the process by calling for an overhaul of the MPs’ standards watchdog instead.

While initially supporting the move, Downing Street made a U-turn following a backlash.

Mr Paterson said he now wants a life “outside the cruel world of politics”. The 65-year-old, who has represented North Shropshire since 1997, said the past two years had been “an indescribable nightmare for my family and me”.

He said his integrity had been “repeatedly and publicly questioned”, and claimed he was “totally innocent” of breaking lobbying rules.

The Commons Standards Committee concluded last week that Mr Paterson had misused his position as an MP to benefit two Northern Ireland firms he worked for – clinical diagnostics company Randox and meat distributor Lynn’s Country Foods – after a damning report on his behaviour by standards commissioner Kathryn Stone.

The Committee had recommended he be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days – a sanction that could also lead to a recall petition in his constituency, and the possibility of him facing a by-election.

Mr Paterson has been a paid consultant for clinical diagnostics company Randox since 2015 and to meat distributor Lynn’s Country Foods since 2016, earning a total of £100,000 a year on top of his MP’s salary.

While MPs are allowed to have these jobs, they are not allowed to be paid advocates using their influence in Whitehall for the company’s gain.

The Committee concluded that Mr Paterson had breached this rule on paid advocacy by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and the testing of antibiotics in milk; making seven approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Lynn’s Country Foods; and making four approaches to Ministers at the Department for International Development relating to Randox and blood testing technology.

Mr Paterson was also found to have broken conduct rules by failing to declare his interest as a paid consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods in four emails to officials at the Food Standards Agency; using his parliamentary office on 16 occasions for business meetings with his clients; and in sending two letters relating to his business interests, on House of Commons headed notepaper.

Mr Paterson said it was a painful decision to resign but “the right one”.

He said the past few days had been intolerable, claiming he had seen people – including MPs – “publicly mock and deride” the death of his wife Rose, who took her own life last year.

In a statement he said: “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.”

His resignation means there will soon be a by-election for his seat.