Former Conservative MP Owen Paterson has revealed he will be “stepping aside” from his £110,000 per year consultancy work following the lobbying scandal that saw him quit the House of Commons.
On the same day that his resignation as the MP for North Shropshire was confirmed, the former cabinet minister said he would now “focus on my family” and his suicide prevention charity.
“Thank you to the many people who have sent their kind wishes to me and my family this week,” Mr Paterson posted on Twitter.
“At this difficult time, I will be stepping aside from my current consultancy work to focus on my family and suicide prevention.”
The 65-year-old, who had been an MP for 24 years, was last month found by parliament’s independent sleaze investigator to have broken lobbying rules during his £110,000-a-year private sector work.
It was recommended he serve a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons.
But Conservative MPs, with the encouragement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this week voted to save Mr Paterson from having to serve an immediate suspension while parliament’s standards system was overhauled.
Following an uproar over the government’s action, Number 10 performed a U-turn less than 24 hours later with the promise of a new vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension.
A cabinet minister on Friday admitted it was “a mistake” for Tory MPs to have attempted to overhaul parliament’s disciplinary processes in combination with blocking Mr Paterson’s suspension.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that ministers had reflected on the “conflation” of ripping up the current standards system with Mr Paterson’s case.
“It was right to separate the two things out, that was the mistake and I think it was right to reflect and return to parliament and correct that,” he said of the bitter row in Westminster this week.
Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “I think the mistake… is the conflation of creating a fairer system, with the right of appeal for parliamentarians to be able to put forward effectively an appeal process, and then conflating that with a particular case of Owen Paterson was a mistake.
“Upon reflection, yes it was a mistake and I think it was right to come back very quickly to the House and say ‘look we need to separate those two things out’.
“We should work on a cross-party basis to create a fairer system, I think that’s a good thing.
“And my appeal to my fellow parliamentarians from all parties is, look, let’s come together and create a better system with the right of appeal.”
A Labour frontbencher immediately dismissed the government’s suggestion of a “mistake” and said ministers had intended to “bring the whole system down in order to protect one of their own”.
Following this week’s climbdown by ministers, Mr Paterson announced his resignation to leave the “cruel world of politics”.
He has vehemently disputed the findings of parliament’s sleaze watchdog and declared himself “not guilty”.
His resignation will now trigger a by-election in his North Shropshire seat, which he won for the Conservatives with a near-23,000 majority at the 2019 general election.
Asked by Sky News if he accepted Mr Paterson had acted wrongly in his work for Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor, Mr Zahawi said: “The [parliamentary standards] commissioner had investigated and come back on the investigation around what Owen Paterson was doing in terms of his work for two companies.
“The prime minister has always been clear paid lobbying is wrong. We need to separate those two things out, as I say.
“The thing to focus on is not the particular case but to focus on creating a fairer system with the right of appeal for all parliamentarians.”
Mr Zahawi pointed to his “collective responsibility” as a cabinet minister for voting in favour of blocking Mr Paterson’s immediate suspension this week.
“We voted because I thought actually improving the system and introducing the right of appeal, as you would have in many sectors of the economy, in many professions people have a right of appeal, I think your viewers would understand there is a fairness argument here,” he said.
Mr Paterson has previously said the investigation into his private sector work “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life in June last year.
In his resignation statement, the former environment secretary revealed his children had asked him to leave politics in order to prevent his wife’s memory from becoming “a political football”.
Mr Zahawi said the public would “make their own judgement” on Mr Paterson, adding: “All I would say is that its worth remembering there is a family here concerned who have just lost a mother, there are children and, of course, Owen himself, but the public will make up their own mind on this.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said a Labour government would ban MPs from lobbying.
“We don’t believe that you can be a lobbyist and an MP. You can’t be both,” she told reporters.
“So we would ban lobbying from members of Parliament and from ministers and from former members of Parliament in the way that we have seen from David Cameron as well.
“Because it is about public service and duty and it should be the job of MPs to be in Parliament and to represent their constituents, not to see it as a cash cow on to getting more lucrative contracts and more lucrative jobs.”
Ms Rayner added: “Lobbying is not a job of an MP, an MP is there for their constituents and to represent their interests. We are very clear on that.”
Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary, Ian Murray, played down suggestions that his party and other opposition parties might field a single “unity candidate” in the North Shropshire by-election against the Tories.
“We [Labour] finished second there at the last election and we will do everything we can to show we are the anti-sleaze party, that Keir Starmer is the anti-sleaze candidate for prime minister,” he told Sky News.
Of the government’s actions this week, Mr Murray added: “They’ve decided they would try and change the rules, bring the standards commissioner to her knees, bring the whole system down in order to protect one of their own.
“I don’t think the public will be looking at this today and thinking the government has made a ‘mistake’ and conflated two issues.
“What they’ve tried to do is use the system, bring the system down in order to make sure they could protect someone who had been found guilty of a pretty egregious breaking of the parliamentary rules.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email email@example.com in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK