Tory rebel MP Kevin Hollinrake on Owen Paterson's resignation: "It didn't need to come to this"

Owen Paterson’s dramatic resignation as an MP followed the Government wrongly “putting one person ahead of the whole of Parliament”, a Yorkshire MP who was among 13 Tory rebels against preventing his suspension has said.

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake defied the Government whip on Wednesday to vote against blocking Mr Paterson’s suspension for breaching lobbying rules and reviewing the entire disciplinary system for MPs.

After a dramatic u-turn by Boris Johnson on Thursday morning to order a fresh vote on the matter after a huge public outcry, Mr Paterson announced he would resign as North Shropshire MP rather than face what looked a likely defeat.

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Mr Hollinrake said last night: “It is just very sad and a very sad end to his career. It didn’t need to come to this.”

Owen Paterson is resigning as an MP.

He said the Government had made an error in its approach to the issue with the original vote.

“The Government has made a mistake,” he said. “I felt that yesterday and that is why I voted against the amendment.

“It was putting one person ahead of the whole of Parliament and it was the wrong thing to do. I wouldn’t have let anybody do it for me.”

The row was triggered after Mr Paterson was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

An investigation by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials on behalf of Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods.

The Commons Standards Committee made up of cross-party MPs said his actions were an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy by MPs and recommended that he should be suspended for 30 sitting days. This week’s amendment attempted to prevent that happening by creating a new committee led by former minister John Whittingdale, which would have re-examined Mr Paterson’s case and whether a new standards system is needed.

Mr Hollinrake said many Conservative colleagues who had voted in support of the Government on Wednesday had done so “with a heavy heart”.

“If you read the report, there was definitely a case to answer. The conclusion in terms of whether wrongdoing had occurred was a pretty reasonable conclusion.

“I quite understand it is not an easy thing to do to vote against the Government.”

On the possibility of wider changes to the Parliamentary disciplinary system, Mr Hollinrake said: “I think we need time to reflect and do things in the right sequence rather than conflate the two issues which is what happened. The question had to be asked, why are we doing this now and the answer was the situation with Owen Paterson.”

Former chief whip Mark Harper, another one of the 13 Tory rebels, said the affair was “one of the most unedifying episodes” he had seen during his 16 years in Parliament.

“My colleagues should not have been instructed, from the very top, to vote for this,” the former chief whip said.

“This must not happen again.”

Another rebel, Yorkshire-born Jackie Doyle-Price, wrote in The Times in advance of Mr Paterson's resignation: “I know that most members are entirely honourable and want to serve the public. When breaches of the code do occur they are rarely deliberate and can be addressed by a system in which the member engages constructively with the committee and the commissioner.

"The public will not understand this when they see Conservative MPs voting to stop one of their own being punished."

Boris Johnson 'very sad' over resignation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “very sad” at Owen Paterson’s resignation but the MP had “decided to put his family first”.

“I am very sad that Parliament will lose the services of Owen Paterson who has been a friend and colleague of mine for decades,” Mr Johnson said. “He has had a distinguished career, serving in two Cabinet positions, and above all he has been a voice for freedom – for free markets and free trade and free societies – and he was an early and powerful champion of Brexit.

“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.”

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