Owen Paterson: Boris Johnson refuses to apologise but says MPs who break rules should be ‘sanctioned’

The Prime Minister has refused to apologise for instructing Tory MPs to vote against the immediate suspension of Owen Paterson

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for the Owen Paterson incident, in which he told Tory MPs to vote against immediate suspension of the former MP after being found to have broken advocacy rules. (Credit:PA)

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for instructing his MPs to vote against the immediate suspension of the former MP Owen Paterson, who was found to have broken lobbying rules while working in parliament.

Johnson had instructed Tory MPs in the House of Commons to vote against the immediate suspension of Paterson and side with a proposal to reform the parliament disciplinary procedure.

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The move caused outrage from opposition parties and the public, who have accused Johnson of placing a question mark over the “integrity” of the UK parliament and claimed that the incident has seen a return of “Tory sleaze”.

The Prime Minister, who was also asked about the issue of MPs second jobs, said it was “crucial” MPs followed the rules, and if they didn’t they should be sanctioned.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • Parliamentary Standards Committee found Paterson had broken lobbying rules after receiving more then £100,000 for two companies he had been paid for in an advisory role, with the committee recommending a 30 day suspension
  • Johnson instructed Tory MPs not to vote for the immediate suspension of Paterson and instead implement a reform of the parliamentary disciplinary system 
  • After Paterson’s suspension was blocked, outrage from opposition parties and the public caused the government to u-turn on their decision
  • The incident has caused many, including the speaker of the house, to claim the Prime Minister’s actions had placed a question mark over the “integrity” of the parliament
  • Questions over MPs second jobs have arisen as a result of the scandal, including scrutiny of MP Geoffrey Cox who had used his cabinet office for outside work

What did Boris Johnson say?

Taking to the stage at COP26, Johnson was hit with questions from the press concerning the Paterson incident, with many having accused him of hiding from the questions surrounding the incident.

Despite being asked to apologise for his actions, Johnson did not apologise, saying: “I think what we were trying to do and what MPs across the House of Commons are still interested in is seeing whether a cross-party agreement can be reached on reform of the process.”

Instead, he backed the second job system, which allows MPs to take on other work alongside their parliamentary role, but said anyone not following the rules should be sanctioned.

He said: “For hundreds of years MPs have gone to parliament and also done work as doctors or lawyers or soldiers or firefighters or writers and all sorts of other trades and callings.

“On the whole, the UK population has understood that that has actually strengthened our democracy because people basically feel that parliamentarians do need to have some experience of the world but if that system is going to continue today then it is crucial that MPs follow the rules.

“The rules say two crucial things - you must put your job as an MP first and you must devote yourself primarily and above all to your constituents and the people who send you to Westminster. They also say that you must not use your position as an MP to lobby or otherwise intervene on behalf of any outside commercial interest.

“And it’s not just that you have to register those interests, you can’t lobby or make representations while an MP on behalf of those interests. Those are the rules and they must be enforced and those who don’t obey them should of course be sanctioned.”

In reference to Geoffrey Cox, who is accused to have broken parliamentary rules by conducting meetings for another role inside his cabinet office, Johnson said: “I just want to say that I don’t want to comment on individual cases, it wouldn’t be right for me to do that, it wouldn’t be appropriate.

“I want to repeat how strongly I feel that those who do break the rules, those who are not putting the interest of their constituents first - which is all of our duty as MPs - they should face appropriate sanctions and punishment.”

Who condemned the Prime Minister for his actions?

The scandal has faced scrutiny from all corners of the House of Commons, with opposition parties, the speaker of the house and rebel Tory MPs condemning the move to block Paterson’s suspension.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House, last week described how the incident threatened “the integrity of the parliament”.

Mark Harper, a Conservative MP who rebelled against the vote, described the original decision to block Paterson’s suspension and overhaul the process as “one of the most unedifying episodes” he has seen during his time in parliament.

He said: “My colleagues should not have been instructed, from the very top, to vote for this. This must not happen again.”

Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, had previously stated that Johnson should apologise for his action, saying: “The country is yet to hear a word of contrition over his attempts to create one rule for him and his friends and another for everyone else. He must now come to the House and say sorry.”

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