Owen Paterson’s colourful political career ends in ignominy

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Until his dramatic fall from grace in a sleaze row, former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson was perhaps most widely known for his claim that badgers were “moving the goalposts” as he attempted to organise a cull of the creatures.

The former environment secretary is quitting the Commons after 24 years rather than face the prospect of being suspended from Parliament for 30 sitting days over an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules.

The decision brings to an end a colourful political career during which he held two Cabinet posts, broke his back and endured personal tragedy when his beloved wife Rose took her own life.

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

He maintained his innocence but decided to quit after the Government U-turned on an attempt to set up a new committee to look at his case and the wider Commons standards regime.

Mr Paterson said the manner in which the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ investigation into his activities was carried out had “undoubtedly” played a “major role” in his wife’s suicide.

The couple had three children and Mr Paterson, 65, said they had urged him to leave politics following the “intolerable” last few days.

Mr Paterson was elected as MP for North Shropshire in 1997 and held a series of frontbench roles in opposition.

When David Cameron became prime minister, Mr Paterson joined the Cabinet as Northern Ireland secretary.

He then moved to the environment department and was in that role when he faced questions about missing targets set for the badger cull programme aimed at protecting cattle from bovine TB.

Asked whether he had moved the goalposts, Mr Paterson said: “The badgers have moved the goalposts, you are dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of weather and disease and breeding patterns.”

Mr Paterson had insisted he was not an enemy of badgers, having kept two of them, Bessie and Baz, as pets.

Minister completes Mongolian ride
Owen Paterson with Rose in Mongolia (The Adventurists/PA)

He lost his Cabinet job in 2014 but continued to be a prominent MP on the backbenches.

In 2018 he suffered a serious back injury in a horse riding accident, ending up receiving treatment in a hospital he had raised money for by taking part in an epic trek across Mongolia.

Mr Paterson and Rose raised £60,000 for the unit at The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Shropshire by riding in the Mongol Derby in 2011, which he described as the “toughest horse race in the world”.

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