Owen Paterson: Government signals U-turn less than 24 hours after MPs block fellow Torys suspension

The government has signalled a U-turn over the controversial blocking of a Conservative MP’s suspension.

Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told MPs on Thursday that a link “needs to be broken” between Owen Paterson’s case and a wider overhaul of parliament’s disciplinary processes.

The change in the government’s position comes less than 24 hours after Conservative MPs passed a motion in favour of ignoring a recommended month-long Commons suspension for Mr Paterson.

Sky News understands MPs will now vote again on a motion to suspend Mr Paterson from the Commons for 30 days, with a vote likely to come before next week’s Commons recess.

Opposition MPs have already forced an emergency three-hour debate on the row on Monday.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s backing on Wednesday, Tory MPs supported the creation of a new Conservative-majority committee to look into a complete overhaul of parliament’s standards rules and to reconsider Mr Paterson’s case.

Three of those Tory MPs to vote in favour of a rethink of the current standards rules are currently under investigation themselves.

Mr Paterson’s suspension had been recommended by the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards after he was found to have broken lobbying rules during his £110,000 a year private sector work.

The controversial action by the government and Conservative MPs prompted a furious backlash at Westminster, with Tories accused of “corruption” and of “governing like the mafia”.

But the government is now set to climbdown over the row, after Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs that efforts to overhaul parliament’s standards rules should not be “conflated” with an “individual case”.

This was despite Mr Rees-Mogg having previously written to all Tory MPs to encourage them to back a bid to change discplinary processes that was explicitly linked to an attempt to save Mr Paterson from an immediate suspension.

Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Mr Rees-Mogg also told MPs that a rethink of disciplinary processes needed to be done on a “cross-party basis”.

“I am aware that last night’s vote has created a certain amount of controversy,” he said. “It is important that standards in this House are done on a cross-party basis.

Analysis by Sam Coates, deputy political editor

“The House voted very clearly yesterday to show that it is worried about the process of handling these complaints and that we would like an appeals system.

“But that change would need to be on a cross-party basis and that is clearly not the case.

“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case or applied retrospectively.

“I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern.

“This link needs to be broken. Therefore, I and others will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases.

“We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussions.”

Mr Rees-Mogg admitted to MPs that the planned new committee to consider a new disciplinary process would not work without cross-party involvement, after Labour and the SNP said they would boycott it.

“Obviously a committee cannot work effectively without opposition members on it,” he said.

“That I think was absolutely clear from what I had said. We need to ensure that we have standards in this place that are fair and robust and are seen to be fair and robust.”

If MPs were to approve a 30-day suspension of Mr Paterson, he would be subject to a recall petition.

This could see a by-election be triggered in his North Shropshire constituency if more than 10% of local voters sign the petition.

Labour’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, Thangham Debbonaire, said: “The government’s pathetic attempt to hide from their actions doesn’t fix anything.

“Last night, they 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.”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain claimed the “humiliating” U-turn for Mr Johnson was his “Super League moment” after the swift collapse of plans for a new European football competition earlier this year.

“This corrupt government thought they could get away with rigging the system without anyone realising,” she added.

“Now they have been forced into a humiliating U-turn after a huge public backlash.”

Anger at the government’s handling of Mr Paterson’s recommended suspension also came from Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

He appeared to admonish Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng after he earlier used a Sky News interview to question the future of the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone.

“It’s not been a good period for the House, it’s a very, very difficult time for all,” Sir Lindsay said.

“I do appeal to members, whether they are secretary of state or whoever. Please, staff members of this House shouldn’t be named, who have not got the right of reply or the ability to defend themselves.

“I am appalled that Sky News is more important. I have got to say, please rein in your thoughts, consider what you are doing to the individuals concerned. They also have to live through this.”

Shortly after Mr Rees-Mogg signalled the government U-turn, Guildford MP Angela Richardson revealed she had been reappointed as a parliamentary aide to Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

She had lost the role on Wednesday after voting against the government’s instructions on Mr Paterson’s suspension.

Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper said the last 24 hours had seen “one of the most unedifying episodes I have seen in my 16 years as an MP”.

His fellow Tory MP Peter Bone revealed that his office was vandalised on Thursday morning after he voted in favour of blocking Mr Paterson’s immediate suspension.

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