The UK government has reversed the plan to overhaul the disciplinary process for MPs after it was derailed by an intense cross-party boycott.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Thursday that he would now seek “cross-party” changes to the system after Labour and other opposition parties refused to take part in a Tory-led committee tasked with the review.
But Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer rejected the suggestion, saying his party is “not going to have anything to do” with it.
The Conservative government whipped through a vote on Wednesday to block the immediate suspension of Tory MP Owen Paterson that was recommended by the cross-party Standards Committee, and to set up a new select committee to review Paterson’s case and the current standards system. The proposed committee was to be composed of one Conservative chair, four Conservative members, three Labour members, and one SNP member.
But the plan was immediately thrown into chaos after opposition parties refused to participate and accused the Tory government of “corruption.”
Rees-Mogg on Thursday told MPs that the government will reconsider the plan to tinker with the standard system.
While the vote from Wednesday suggested “a need for an appeals process” in the parliament standards process, a select committee “not being supported by other parties” is “clearly” not going to be an effective way of changing the system, the Conservative MP told Parliament.
He also acknowledged that there’s “a strong feeling” that the system overhaul should be separated from the Paterson case and any change of the system shouldn’t be applied retrospectively.
“I fear last night’s debate conflated an individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken,” he said.
“Therefore I and others will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases,” he said, adding that more detailed proposals will be brought forward after cross-party discussions.
No 10 Downing Street also confirmed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had changed his approach once it became clear cross-party consensus “wasn’t going to be possible, ” and that he “understands that it’s right to change the approach and to decouple those two issues.”
However, Starmer rejected the argument that there was no right for MPs to appeal the findings of a standards report, saying it’s “completely wrong” as “there is an appeal to the standards committee.”
Asked about Rees-Mogg’s suggestion about cross-party talks, Starmer told Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show, “No, we’re not going to have anything to do with this suggestion.”
The recommendation to suspend Paterson for 30 sitting days came from a report by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone, and the report was approved by the cross-party Standards Committee.
The committee found Paterson repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 ($134,800) per year. Paterson’s conduct was deemed an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy.
However, the Tory MP, who has angrily denied the findings against him, said the investigation process had been unfair, and that 17 witnesses who came forward to support him were ignored. He also said that the investigation had played a major role in his wife’s decision to take her own life last year.
He has also said those who are responsible for the recommendation “all have to go,” claiming “they have not done a good job and come up with a rotten report which is full of inaccuracies.”
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Paterson announced he’s resigning as the MP for North Shropshire, maintaining that he’s “totally innocent” but said he wishes to “remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics.”
PA contributed to this report.