The UK’s ruling Conservative Party has been accused of corruption after backing a colleague who was found to have broken paid lobbying rules by the Commons watchdog committee.
Taking the vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, MPs voted by 250 to 232 against a 30-day suspension of Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who was alleged to be repeatedly lobbying on behalf of two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year, which is nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary.
The Commons Committee on Standards, which is a cross-party panel of seven MPs and seven lay members who oversee the work of the MPs, had determined earlier that Paterson committed an “egregious case of paid advocacy,” before recommending him for a suspension.
However, a group of Conservatives, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s support, refused to endorse his suspension by proposing to delay it and setting up a new committee to reconsider the Commons’ disciplinary process.
The move erupted anger in the opposition party, with Labour Party leader Keir Starmer denouncing it as “corruption.”
In an opinion piece published in the Guardian newspaper, Starmer said “Tory MPs voted to let off one of their own,” adding that the party is “wallowing in sleaze.”
He put special emphasis on Johnson in his scathing comments, saying that “the rot starts at the top. We have a prime minister whose name is synonymous with sleaze, dodgy deals and hypocrisy.”
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Thangam Debbonaire also denounced Wednesday's vote, branding it as “pathetic.”
“The government’s pathetic attempt to hide from their actions doesn’t fix anything,” she said, adding that “they (Conservatives) voted to allow corruption to take place unimpeded at the heart of British politics.”
“MPs must now vote to uphold the sanctions against Owen Paterson. Any other result will allow Boris Johnson to create one rule for Tory MPs, another for everyone else,” Debbonaire stressed.
Meanwhile, the government was forced into a U-turn after opposition parties made clear they would refuse to attend a committee with an in-built Tory majority which Johnson wanted to review the procedures under which allegations of MP misconduct are investigated.
Following the government’s U-turn on sleaze committee on Thursday, Paterson decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire, saying, “I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics.”
In a statement announcing his decision, Paterson said, “I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire.”
“The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me. My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned,” Paterson added, while rejecting the accusations and claiming that he is innocent.
He was expected to confront a second vote on suspension before parliament goes on a recess next Tuesday.