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Theresa May has warned of the “damage” caused to all MPs and Parliament by the Westminster sleaze row, as Boris Johnson’s standards U-turn was approved.
The former prime minister said it was clear that former MP Owen Paterson had broken lobbying rules and the attempt by MPs “aided and abetted by the Government” to save him was “misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong”.
Mrs May also suggested scrapping the proposed controversial standards overhaul which sparked the crisis was a “step in the right direction”.
But she cautioned that such a move would “not undo the damage” done by the Government’s botched attempt to delay the parliamentary suspension for former Tory cabinet minister Mr Paterson.
The motion, approved unanimously on Tuesday, implemented a Government U-turn over the Paterson row.
It rescinded the so-called Leadsom amendment, which looked to establish a review of the MP standards investigation process in a bid to delay Mr Paterson’s suspension.
It also endorsed the Commons Standards Committee’s report which would have suspended Mr Paterson from Parliament for 30 days if he had remained an MP.
He quit as the Conservative MP for North Shropshire after the Government backed down on its attempt to delay his suspension and reform the standards process.
An attempt to quietly endorse the Commons standards watchdog’s report on Mr Paterson’s behaviour was foiled on Monday night as veteran Tory Sir Christopher Chope objected to the move.
Mrs May told the Commons: “Let’s be clear, this is not a party political issue. Damage has been done to all Members of Parliament and to Parliament as a whole.”
On the report into Mr Paterson’s actions, Tory MP Mrs May said: “I believe the conclusion was clear and fair, Owen Paterson broke the rules on paid advocacy and the attempt by members of this House, aided and abetted by the Government, under cover of reform of the process effectively to clear his name was misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong.”
Mrs May said: “It would be a mistake to think that because someone broke the rules, the rules were wrong.
“The rule on paid advocacy is a longstanding one.
“The problem came because there was an attempt to effectively let off a then-member of the House.
“That flew in the face of the rules on paid advocacy and in the face of the processes established by this House.”
The Maidenhead MP urged the Government to look at recommendations on how to strengthen rules on MPs’ standards put forward by a committee in 2018. Mrs May said wider issues over the service given by MPs to their constituents is a matter “for their electorate”.
Opening the standards debate, the Commons Leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, expressed “regret” and told MPs an amendment to save Mr Paterson was a “mistake”.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I think it was simply the tragedy that afflicted Mr (Owen) Paterson coloured and clouded our judgment, and my judgment, incorrectly and it is as simple and as sad as that.”
He added: “I regret that the amendment conflated an individual case with more general concerns, that was a mistake.”
But SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart suggested Mr Rees-Mogg and Prime Minister Mr Johnson should consider their positions.
Mr Wishart criticised the “malicious, malign attempt to undermine and smear” the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone.
It was Ms Stone’s investigation that found Mr Paterson breached the Commons code of conduct by lobbying ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.
On Monday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng apologised to Ms Stone after he publicly speculated about her future.
Mr Wishart said: “She shouldn’t be considering her position, the Leader of the House should be considering his position as should the Prime Minister because they needed to undermine the standards commissioner in order for the silly and stupid plan to work for them. Of course, it hasn’t worked at all.”
Conservative Sir Christopher, MP for Christchurch, said he blocked the motion on Monday night as it was important for the Commons to “debate this issue openly”.
“I have got no regrets about that whatsoever,” he added.
Mr Paterson’s wife, Rose, took her own life last year and the former MP had suggested this was, in part, due to the investigation against him.
Labour’s Chris Bryant, who chairs the Standards Committee, said he believed the Paterson family has “been through hell” over the last year and said: “It is a matter of deep regret to me that the parliamentary shenanigans of the past three weeks can only have added to that misery.
“This House has done him and his family no favours, we should be ashamed of what has happened here, but sadly Mr Paterson’s was not the only catalogue of bad behaviour.
“As countless Conservative MPs have said to me, and incidentally I would just like to praise a lot of the new Conservative MPs who have shown far greater insight over the last three weeks than some of their more longstanding colleagues, the way the Government and the Prime Minister have handled this has been shameful and it has brought the House into disrepute.”
Mr Bryant said of the Government’s behaviour: “Just plain wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and the Government knows it.”