A former British minister resigned from his role as an elected representative on Thursday amid intense political turmoil over whether or not to suspend him.
Owen Paterson, an MP of 24 years, said he decided to “remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics.”
The Conservative MP was found by the cross-party Standards Committee to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year—conduct deemed an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy.
However, he has denied the findings against him, saying the investigation process was unfair, and that 17 witnesses who came forward to support him were ignored.
The Conservative government has been accused of “corruption” and “wallowing in sleaze” after it whipped through a vote on Wednesday to block an immediate 30-day suspension of Paterson and to shake up the disciplinary process at the same time.
On Thursday, it abandoned the plan to set up a new Tory-majority select committee to review Paterson’s case and the current standards system following a boycott by the opposition parties.
Downing Street said Prime Minister Boris Johnson “understands that it’s right to change the approach” and to decouple Paterson’s case and the overhaul of the current standards system.
A new vote was expected next week to determine whether or not to suspend Paterson, but the MP for North Shropshire announced on Thursday afternoon that he decided to resign instead.
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.”
Paterson said the last two years, during which the investigation into his conduct was carried out, has been “an indescribable nightmare” for him and his family.
“My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned,” his statement reads.
“I maintain that I am totally innocent of what I have been accused of and I acted at all times in the interests of public health and safety.”
The former MP said he is “unable to clear [his] name under the current system.”
Paterson’s wife Rose committed suicide in June, 2020, a tragedy he said was partly the result of the investigation.
Paterson said the last few days had been “intolerable” for his family.
“Worst of all was seeing people, including MPs, publicly mock and deride Rose’s death and belittle our pain,” he said, adding that he didn’t want his “wife’s memory and reputation to become a political football.”
“I will remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics,” his statement reads.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the prime minister to apologise to the nation for what he called a “grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend.”
“This has been an unbelievable 24 hours even by this government’s chaotic standards,” Starmer said.
“Only yesterday Boris Johnson was forcing his MPs to rip up the rules on standards in public life in a truly damning indictment of this prime minister and the corrupt government he leads,” he said.
“Boris Johnson must now apologise to the entire country for this grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend. This isn’t the first time he’s done this but it must be the last.”
The Labour leader said Johnson “must explain how he intends to fix the immense harm he has done to confidence in the probity of him and his MPs.”