Owen Paterson: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnsons government of corruption after vote to protect MP from being suspended

Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of “corruption” and “synonymous with sleaze, dodgy deals and hypocrisy” following a vote to protect Conservative MP Owen Paterson from being suspended.

The MP for North Shropshire was facing a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for “repeatedly” breaching lobbying rules over his paid consultancy work on behalf of clinical diagnostics company, Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.

For his part, Mr Paterson said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to act in the same manner “tomorrow”.

Tory MPs were told not back the cross-party Standards Committee’s call to suspend him.

But 98 abstained and 13 rebelled after being told to vote instead for an amendment to establish a new Conservative-led committee to consider Mr Paterson’s case and review the entire standards process.

However, the movement was passed with a majority of 18 votes and since then a number of political figures have hit back at the outcome.

As the result was announced, there were cries of “shame” and “what have you done to this place” in the Commons.

Following the decision, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the government of “corruption” and “wallowing in sleaze”.

He told The Guardian: “I am sick of people skirting around calling this out for what it is: corruption. Paterson was receiving money from a private company to ask questions on its behalf.”

He added that the Conservatives’ “plan is to permanently weaken the structures that hold MPs to high standards” and instead of “trying to sort things out, we have a government that wants to stitch things up”.

He also told the publication, “the rot starts at the stop” and “we have a prime minister whose name is synonymous with sleaze, dodgy deals and hypocrisy”.

His comments come as MP for Guildford, Angela Richardson announced she has left her role as a parliamentary aide to Michael Gove following the vote.

Making the announcement on Twitter, she said: “I abstained on the Leadsom Amendment today, aware that my job was at risk, but it was a matter of principle for me.”

The Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, was one of the Tory MPs who refused to support the move to consider tearing up the standards system during the middle of Mr Paterson’s case.

“We chose the system we are now using,” he said. “If we want to consider changing it, we do it in a proper way instead of considering it in the way we are now.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the party will “not be taking any part in this sham process or any corrupt committee”, with the Liberal Democrats and SNP also confirming they will boycott the committee being set up to look at the standards process.

Despite the backlash, Mr Paterson defended his actions to Sky News, saying he would have “no question” in acting the same way again.

He was found to have breached rules on behalf of Randox by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) about the testing of antibiotics in milk in 2016 and 2017.

Following a two-year investigation, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said Mr Paterson had breached the rule prohibiting paid advocacy by making multiple approaches to government departments and ministers for the two companies.

On behalf of Lynn’s Country Foods, Mr Paterson breached the rules by making seven approaches to the FSA in 2017 and 2018 and failed to declare his interest as a paid consultant to the FSA in four emails between 2016 and 2018.

But Mr Paterson, who was environment secretary from 2012 to 2014, denies the allegations, saying he was raising very serious issues about food contamination and accused the commissioner, Kathryn Stone, of admitting to him she “made up her mind” before the allegations were put to him and that none of his 17 witnesses were interviewed.

He has also claimed the investigation “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life in June last year.

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