conservatives engulfed in murky crisis after turnaround and resignation of Owen Paterson | Owen Paterson

Boris Johnson was engulfed in a murky crisis last night after a humiliating government turnaround that saw veteran Conservative MP Owen Paterson resign from parliament after Downing Street rejected an offer to shield him from lobbying claims.

Conservative lawmakers reacted with outrage after Johnson withdrew his support of Paterson, less than 24 hours after ordering them to support a controversial amendment by tearing down anti-impurity rules to protect him.

Shortly afterwards, the former Northern Ireland secretary said he would step aside rather than face a 30-day suspension and the prospect of a by-election in his North Shropshire constituency, saying, “I will remain a public servant but out of the cruel world of politics.”

“The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me. My integrity, which I hold dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned, ”Paterson said.

Back-to-back Conservative MPs, many of whom reluctantly backed the government’s extraordinary offer to reopen Paterson’s case on Wednesday, reacted with anger, calling it a “personal goal” and a “master class on how to turn a minor local crisis into a disaster”.

Many questioned the prime minister’s judgment for failing to anticipate the extent of concern among his own MPs – or the fact that Downing Street’s offer to set up a cross-party committee to revisit Paterson’s case would be rejected by the opposition.

Johnson’s turnaround came shortly after the chairman of the commission on standards in public life described the government’s behavior as “a very important and damaging moment for parliament and public standards in this country.”

Jonathan Evans, a fellow and former director general of the Security Service, said the proposal to revise anti-pollution rules, which was backed by the full force of government whips on Wednesday, was an “extraordinary proposal … deeply in conflict with most good traditions of British democracy ”and described it as“ as an attack on norms ”.

Former Conservative whip Mark Harper, who voted against the motion on Wednesday along with 12 colleagues, described this week’s events as “one of the most unedifying episodes I’ve seen in my 16 years as a MP”.

“My colleagues should not be instructed, from the very top, to vote for that,” he added.

Following revelations in a Guardian inquiry in 2019, an inquiry by parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone found that Paterson had repeatedly contacted ministers and officials on behalf of two companies that had paid him more than £ 100,000.

The former Northern Ireland secretary continued to protest his innocence – including in a series of interviews after Wednesday’s vote in which he said he intended to clear his name.

Andrea Leadsom’s amendment, passed Wednesday by order of Downing Street, would have set up a cross-party committee chaired by former Conservative cabinet minister John Whittingdale. But that idea collapsed after Labor leader Keir Starmer said Wednesday that his party would not participate.

After Paterson’s resignation, Starmer said, “This has been an incredible 24 hours even by the chaotic standards of this government.

“Boris Johnson must now apologize to the whole country for this dirty attempt to hide his friend’s crime. This is not the first time he has done this, but it must be the last. And Boris Johnson must explain how he intends to repair the enormous damage he has done to confidence in the honesty of him and his MPs. “

He had earlier called Johnson’s attempt to prevent Paterson’s suspension “corruption”, and accused him of “leading his soldiers through the sewer”.

Amid reports from Conservative MPs that angry voters were emailing to raise the issue with them, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said Johnson “underestimated the British people and how badly this would be undermined, including among many lifelong Conservative voters.

“It just shows that the Conservatives take people for granted. The public wants decency and honesty from their government, instead under Boris Johnson all they get is lies, chaos and friendship,” he said.

Several Conservative lawmakers have questioned the role of Chief Whip Mark Spencer in the failure, with one saying it would “make people think twice before trusting the whips,” adding, “why take heaps of abuse to defend an unpopular government decision just for it.” the next day? “

One front bench called the U-turn a “fucking disgrace and a huge party mismanagement”. “Another day, another optional mistake,” sighed another.

Asked if Johnson still has full confidence in Spencer, the prime minister’s official spokesman said “yes.” A Downing Street source insisted last night: “We are left square behind the leader [whip]”.

One junior frontman, Michael Gove’s parliamentary private secretary, Angela Richardson, was fired on Wednesday night after rebelling against the three-line whip by abstaining – only to be reinstated on Thursday morning.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was sent to defend the government’s position in a series of interviews Thursday morning, just hours before his colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg confessed that it was a mistake to merge requirements for reform of the standard system with an individual case.

The prime minister said he was “very sad” that Paterson had decided to step down.

“He had a distinguished career, serving in two cabinet positions, and above all he was a voice for freedom – for free markets and free trade and free societies – and he was an early and powerful champion of Brexit,” Johnson said in a statement.

“I know that was certainly a very difficult decision, but I can understand why – after the tragic circumstances in which he lost his beloved wife Rose – he decided to put his family first.”

Chris Bryant MP, chairman of the standards committee, said: “The last few days have been unfortunate and all could have been avoided if the proper processes had been followed all along. Ultimately, Mr Paterson made the right decision to resign.”

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