The UK government’s attempt to quickly move on from the Owen Paterson debacle was disrupted by one Conservative MP.
Christopher Chope, an MP of 24 years, shouted “objection” on Monday night to a motion to rescind a controversial resolution the government pushed through two weeks ago that protected then-Tory MP Paterson from immediate suspension for breaking lobbying rules, and sought to change rules on standards at the same time.
After an intense cross-party backlash and a series of corruption allegations against the government and Conservative MPs, Cabinet ministers have defended the attempt to overhaul the disciplinary process, saying there were “long-standing concerns amongst MPs” about the way standards probes were handled, but said they “regret” making the mistake of conflating “the individual case with the wider system and the due process that should be in place.”
The new motion proposed on Monday would rescind the resolution passed on Nov. 3, approve the report of the Committee on Standards that recommended a 30-day suspension of Paterson, and note that Paterson, who resigned on Nov. 4, is no longer an MP.
It is unclear why Chope blocked the motion, but the former minister has previously defended his blockage of other motions by saying measures should be debated rather than simply going through unopposed.
The SNP’s shadow Commons leader Pete Wishart, who was in the chamber at the time, said attempts to settle the matter swiftly on Monday night ended “in misery and failure.”
“That all went badly wrong when Christopher Chope piped up to object,” he said.
Wishart claimed there were metaphorical “daggers being flung backwards” at Chope by government chief whip Mark Spencer.
Chris Bryant, chair of the Committee on Standards, said it was unfortunate that “the house has still not resolved this matter” because of a single objection.
The Labour MP on Monday night urged the government to bring forward the motion with allocated time as soon as possible “if the house isn’t to fall into further disrepute,” minutes before he learnt a one-hour debate was scheduled for Tuesday.
The chaos came as every living former Cabinet secretary urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to strengthen standards rules for ministers to make it harder for any who try to cheat the system.
The five former civil service heads, including Lord Sedwill, who stepped down from the role last year, also called for the ministerial standards adviser to be given a statutory basis.
In a letter to The Times of London, they said that the ministerial code must be “strictly enforced,” adding that “people may find ways round whatever rules there are, and we should aim to frame regulations to make cheating them harder.”
PA contributed to this report.