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Conor Burns quits as minister over attempt to 'intimidate' member of public during family dispute

Conor Burns quits as minister over attempt to 'intimidate' member of public during family dispute

Conor Burns quit as a trade minister in the wake of the report.

3 min read

Trade minister Conor Burns has resigned after Parliament's sleaze watchdog accused him of attempting to use his position in the Commons to "intimidate" a firm during a family dispute.

The Standards Committee had recommended a seven-day suspension for the Tory MP after they concluded he made "veiled threats" against a firm with whichhis father had a financial dispute.

But a statement from Downing Street confirmed the minister had resigned in the wake of the findings, saying: "Conor Burns has resigned as Minister of State for International Trade following a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"A replacement will be announced in due course."

In the damning report, the Standards Commissioner said Mr Burns had put "personal interest before the public interest by suggesting that he would take advantage of his public office to pursue his father's financial dispute".

The then-Tory minister was found to have used House of Commons notepaper to make an "implied threat" to reference the firm in the Commons, writing: "My role in the public eye could well attract interest especially if I were to use parliamentary privilege to raise the case."

Mr Burns had later apologised over the row, telling the watchdog he acknowledged "on reflection, I absolutely should not have written to the complainant in the terms I did or used House stationary to do so. I am sorry I did so and regret it".

But the Committee had said his apology did not go far enough to resolve the case and had suggested he should be suspended from the Commons for seven days.

MPs will now be asked to approve the sanction handed down by the Committee in a Commons vote.

Committee Chair Kate Green said: "The Committee regrets the time taken to bring this matter to a conclusion.

"Both the Commissioner and the Committee are however aware of the importance of proceeding according to due process, which sometimes extends the duration of an investigation, as a result of giving the parties to a complaint full opportunity to provide evidence or to comment on the factual accuracy of draft material.

"In this case, the delay was also due to events beyond the control of the Commissioner or the Committee, such as the general election campaign, the time taken to re-appoint the Committee afterwards, and the impact of the coronavirus lockdown."

GREG HANDS

The resignation comes as Greg Hands, also a Minister of State in the Department for International Trade, was ordered to apologise over an “unnecessary” row over stationery.

The Tory MP was reprimanded by the Parliamentary Commissioner last year for using official stationery and prepaid envelopes to send “general updates” to constituents.

He initially accepted he had been in breach of the rules, agreeing to issue an apology and repay the £4,865 cost for the letters.

But he later asked to appear before the Standards Committee, claiming the rules relating to stationary were “bizarre and extremely cost-ineffective” and saying he had not received any complaints from constituents over the mailing.

The Committee responded by saying that it had “no responsibility” for reviewing the rules, adding that “it is not acceptable for a Member knowingly to breach a rule simply because they disagree with it.”

The group of MPs has recommednated that Mr Hands apologise in a statement, both for his “initial breach of the rules and for insisting on a futile reference to this Committee”. 

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