Evening Standard Comment: Humiliating Owen Paterson U-turn leaves a bitter taste

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 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

In a breathtaking and humiliating U-turn, the Government has ditched plans for a new committee to investigate the case of Owen Paterson MP.

The Committee on Standards, a cross-party body comprised of MPs and lay members, had concluded that Mr Paterson, a former Cabinet member, breached the rule prohibiting paid advocacy, from which he earned more than £100,000 a year from two companies. He faced a six-week suspension and a possible recall election.

Initially, instead of accepting the ruling, the Prime Minister whipped his MPs to support an amendment tabled by Andrea Leadsom to pause the case and refer it to a new committee of parliamentarians, with the supposed aim of reforming the current system.

The decision has proved to be wildly out of step with the public mood. It is not the first such move. This administration is starting to give the impression that, when it does not like the rules of the game, it simply changes them, from proroguing Parliament to defending Dominic Cummings’s infamous trip to Barnard Castle in lockdown.

The U-turn, announced by Jacob Rees-Mogg this morning, was swift. The arrogance of assuming that, with an 80-seat majority, the Government could get away with rewriting the rulebook has been firmly challenged.

This matters because for our system to endure, the rules must apply to all evenly and fairly. Moreover, any reform to the House’s procedures must be done on a cross-party basis.

Yet even with this enforced change of heart, the events of the last day leave a bitter taste in the mouth and will sadly only serve to further damage the standing with which MPs are held.

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