Owen Paterson resigns as MP
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Boris Johnson performed one of his most spectacular u-turns to date yesterday following the severe backlash to allegations of corruption when Tory MP Owen Paterson, who has now resigned, was found to be breaking lobbying rules by a parliamentary committee. The results of the scandal have been dire for the Government, which has seen a five-point overnight slump in the polls – leaving them just one point above Labour.
The Prime Minister had initially backed the MP for North Shropshire, backing a shake-up of the standards watchdog which implicated Mr Paterson and blocked his suspension from parliament.
Mr Paterson was found to have broken Parliament rules by using his position as an MP to benefit two companies he works as an advisor for, for which he was paid £100,000 a year on top of his Commons salary.
The North Shropshire MP has insisted he is not guilty of wrongdoing and has since resigned from being a representative, triggering a by-election.
Mr Johnson’s change of heart came shortly after the chair of the committee on standards in public life described the Government’s behaviour as “a very serious and damaging moment for parliament and public standards in this country”.
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The Prime Minister’s initial plans were met with overwhelming disdain from all sides of the house as well as the public, as Mr Johnson installed a whip to party members to vote in favour of an amendment to halt Mr Paterson’s case and to overhaul the standards system.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded Mr Johnson’s attempt to save one of his MPs as “corrupt”.
He said: “What has happened in that last 24 hours is corrupt. There is no other word for it. To rip the whole system up to protect [Mr Paterson] is corrupt.
“There is no point shilly-shallying around and pretending it is something else. This goes to the very very top.”
The Owen Paterson scandal has seriously damaged the reputation of the Tory party, with the Government now just a single point ahead of the opposition in the latest voting intention polls.
The survey by YouGov was carried out on Wednesday evening and Thursday – shortly after the government’s controversial Commons vote to save Mr Paterson and rewrite conduct rules.
The poll found the Tories were down by three points to 36 percent, with Labour gaining two points to bring them to 35 percent.
Political polling analyst Mike Smithson said: “The polling takes place amidst very special circumstance.
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“The question is, will it be prolonged or will those not ready to say Conservative now swing back slowly in the next few weeks or months?”
He added: “My guess is that there will be a shift back but it will take time and it might not be all of them.”
The Prime Minister is not just facing backlash from the public, but also from a considerable number of his own MPs.
Even Government ministers have come out to condemn and apologise for the decision taken over Mr Paterson’s conduct.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “I take collective responsibility, I am part of the Government, I am part of the Cabinet.
“I also take collective responsibility to say we made a mistake… We shouldn’t have conflated the issue of fairness… with the specific case of Owen Paterson.”
“All I can say is I am sorry, we made that mistake, but it was right to move quickly and actually it is much more human.
“I would prefer a leader who is able to reflect and come back and say ‘we made a mistake’, rather than just ploughs on.”
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