Owen Paterson today dramatically resigned after executed an extraordinary U-turn on the bid to block his punishment for lobbying.
The former minister declared he is quitting as MP for North Shropshire after the PM effectively cut him adrift, saying he would continue as a public servant ‘outside the cruel world of politics’.
The bombshell came hours after Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced the government was dropping plans for a retrospective overhaul of sleaze rules following a huge backlash at the ‘politically-motivated’ decision.
The reversal meant that a motion on suspending Mr Paterson for 30 days for lobbying rule breaches – the punishment recommended by the cross-party standards committee – was set to be brought before the House again within days.
Mr Paterson’s decision makes the new showdown unnecessary – and also spares the 65-year-old the prospect of a recall petition and having to fight a by-election.
Mr Johnson said in a statement that he is ‘very sad that Parliament will lose the services’ of Mr Paterson who he described as a ‘friend and colleague of mine for decades’.
The PM said Mr Paterson ‘has had a distinguished career, serving in two cabinet positions’ and ‘above all he has been a voice for freedom’.
He added: ‘I know that this must have been a very difficult decision but I can understand why – after the tragic circumstances in which he lost his beloved wife Rose – he has decided to put his family first.’
The PM’s comments came as he faced the wrath of Tories over the frenzied manoeuvring, with one comparing him to the Grand Old Duke of York for ‘marching us up the hill’.
In his resignation statement, Mr Paterson referred to the suicide of his wife Rose, which he has linked to the investigation, and claimed he had seen MPs and others ‘publicly mock and deride (her) death and belittle our pain’.
‘This is a painful decision but I believe the right one,’ he said. ‘The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me.
‘My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned.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.
‘I, my family and those closest to me know the same. I am unable to clear my name under the current system.’
The whirlwind developments came less than 24 hours after the PM smashed convention by ordering his party to oppose the conclusions of the standards watchdog.
It sparked complete chaos, leaving the existing system for regulating MPs’ behaviour in tatters and Opposition parties vowing to boycott the government’s plans to agree a new one.
A triumphant Mr Paterson set No10 nerves jangling by saying in interviews last night that he would do all the alleged lobbying breaches again without a second thought.
But Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was still sent out on the airwaves this morning to double down on the stance, describing Mr Paterson as a ‘victim’ and backing his call for standards commissioner Kathryn Stone to quit.
The final straw appears to have been when the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, former MI5 head Lord Evans, delivered an excoriating assessment that the mooted overhaul of the parliamentary safeguards was ‘politically motivated’.
No10 has denied that Mr Paterson was blindsided by the PM’s sudden shift, after claims he only found out when called by a journalist while he was at a supermarket.
He was last week found to have committed an ‘egregious’ breach of standards rules by directly advocating for two companies from which he pocketed some £500,000. He continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Despite the trenchant support from Mr Johnson – who has himself had run-ins with Ms Stone over his outside earnings and a ‘freebie’ trip to Mustique – the amendment ‘pausing’ the process and calling for a reform of the sleaze rules still only narrowly passed last night.
Ministerial aide Angela Richardson was fired for abstaining – but then bizarrely reinstated to her job at Michael Gove’s department after the U-turn today.
A senior Tory told MailOnline: ‘There will be a lot of angry MPs who gave way and voted for the Government.Marched up to the top of the hill… ‘
An ex-minister said there was intense frustration that the situation had been ‘badly handled’. ‘People are writing in, twitter followers smm panel there is hostility on social media,’ the MP said. ‘We the party have taken an enormous hit for absolutely nothing.
Standards committee chair Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, had warned that retrospectively changing the system when an ally was under threat was ‘what they do in Russia’.Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of ‘leading his troops through the sewer’.
Owen Paterson (right) was among the Tory MPs who voted yesterday block his own suspension after Boris Johnson (left) issued orders
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced the government has dropped plans for a retrospective overhaul of sleaze rules after a huge backlash at the ‘politically-motivated’ decision
A defiant Kathryn Stone (pictured) had indicated she would stay on as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for another year, despite the pressure from Mr Paterson’s camp
Tory Angela Richardson revealed last night that she had left her job as a ministerial aide over the vote.But after the dramatic U-turn by the PM this morning, the Guidford MP confirmed that she has got her role back
Guildford MP Ms Richardson (pictured in the Commons recently) said she had abstained in the standards amendment as a ‘matter of principle’
Owen Paterson was found to have committed an ‘egregious’ breach of standards rules as he lobbied for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.Mr Paterson, pictured with his late wife Rose, claimed the ‘biased’ way the standards inquiry was carried out was a major factor in her suicide last year
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