Business Secretary Has No Shame "At All" Over Owen Paterson Saga As Government Faces Major Backlash
Business Secretary Kwasi Karteng has said "I don't feel shame at all" over the government's contentious move to overturn the suspension of a Conservative MP who was found to have breached parliament's lobbying rules.
Boris Johnson is facing anger from many Conservative MPs and widespread allegations of corruption after the government last night successfully prevented Tory Owen Paterson from being suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days, as well as securing support for rewriting standards rules.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, last week said Paterson had breached lobbying rules multiple times by approaching ministers and government departments on behalf of the two companies. Paterson disputes Stone's conclusions.
The passage of yesterday's amendment scraps Stone's verdict and puts in place a plan to set up a new committee to deal with parliamentary standards. Cries of "shame" were heard from the Commons benches as the result was read out.
Despite significant backlash, this morning Kwarteng said "I don't feel shame at all" and that he was "really interested" in seeing the system for regulating parliamentary standards reformed.
He also suggested that Stone should resign as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
"It's difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact we are reviewing the process and overturnig and trying to reform this whole process," the Business Secretary in an told Sky News.
"But it's up to the commissioner to decide her position."
In a statement released this morning, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, accused the government of "trying to bully" Stone out of her position.
Thirteen Conservative MPs defied the government to vote against the measure, while several dozens abstained on last night's vote in protest against the move to overturn Paterson's suspension.
Several of those Tories who abstained expressed their anger with Downing Street's behaviour to PoliticsHome. One said the amendment "gives the impression that MPs can change rules to help themselves, adding "if rules do need changing then we should do it in an orderly way, not in this shambolic manner,".
Another described the government's handling of the matter as a "shitshow".
Labour, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats have all said they will boycott any new committee for standards which is set up as a result of the amendment. There were cries of "shame" from opposition MPs when the result of the vote was announced by Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.
The government has justified the move to stop Paterson being suspended by arguing that the current system for regulating parliamentary standards isn't working and needs to be reformed.
The Prime Minister yesterday insisted that paid lobbying was "not the issue" in the case of Paterson. He said the amendment, originally tabled by former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, was about ensuring the Tory MP for North Shropshire has a "fair opportunity to make representations" and a "proper appeal".
Paterson has denied wrongdoing and said that the way the probe into his conduct was carried out was severely flawed and contributed to his wife's suicide.
However, he also told Sky News he "wouldn’t hesitate" to act in the same way "tomorrow" and admitted that he still worked for the two companies he was found to have lobbied on behalf of.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, Chair of the Committee on Standards, this morning compared the government's behaviour to that of the Kremlin.
“That's not what we do in this country it’s what they do in Russia when a friend or a foe is suddenly under the cosh in the courts," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
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