Sir Christopher Chope branded ‘dinosaur’ after forcing debate on Owen Paterson motion

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Sir Christopher Chope branded ‘dinosaur’ after forcing debate on Owen Paterson motion
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  • Christopher Chope
    British politician (born 1947)
  • Owen Paterson
    British Conservative Party politician (born 1956)

A veteran Conservative MP has been branded a “dinosaur” for delaying the Government’s attempts to limit the damage from the Owen Paterson sleaze storm.

In a dramatic twist late on Monday Sir Christopher Chope, the Tory MP for Christchurch and East Dorset, objected to a motion which would have formally confirmed Mr Paterson’s 30-day suspension for breaching lobbying rules and dissolve plans for a review of Parliament’s watchdog on standards.

Instead of being passed “on the nod”, Sir Christopher’s intervention meant MPs were on Tuesday preparing to stage an hour-long debate on the issue before deciding whether to vote again.

The objection sparked fury from some of Sir Christopher’s Conservative colleagues who fear Tuesday’s full debate will cause further damage to Boris Johnson’s Government which has been rocked by a series of allegations over MPs’ conduct.

With Mr Johnson holding a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Ministers are keen to try and move on from the controversy and shift attention back to its levelling up agenda and dealing with the growing pressure on the NHS this winter.

Sir Christopher has attracted criticism in the past for blocking House of Commons motions to toughen laws on female genital mutilation and to make upskirting an offence.

Simon Hoare, Conservative MP for North Dorset, told the Standard Sir Christopher was a “dinosaur who should now be a fossil”. He added: “It’s appalling, utterly appalling, incomprehensible and deeply damaging. Why he thinks he has this unalienable right to drag the Tory party’s reputation down I just don’t know.”

Another Tory MP said: “It’s sad. Elements of the party are yet to wake up to how damaging this is. It underlines how a caucus is trying to close ranks to protect one of its own. It also underlines how out of date Parliament is that one voice can delay the will of the House.”

A third Conservative MP added: “I can understand MPs’ frustrations at Christopher Chope’s actions and I share them. He is one of the small number of dinosaur MPs who really do not get modern politics.

“They taint us all and it’s about time they took a hard look at themselves and ask why they are MPs because their actions suggest they are about self service rather than public service.”

Labour’s Chris Bryant, chair of Parliament’s Standards Committee said he had tried to warn the Government’s whips that the attempt to pass the Paterson motion without a full debate could face opposition from a small group of Conservative MPs.

Mr Bryant said: “I spent a lot of yesterday trying to prevent this from happening. All they have done is bring Parliament into further disrepute.”

Sir Christopher could not immediately be reached for comment. But he has defended his interventions in the past by insisting he is seeking to protect democracy and Parliament’s right to debate contentious issues, rather than allowing the Government to pass them “on the nod” without proper debate.

Following his decision to block the motion on upskirting in 2018 he said he was being unfairly scapegoated and said: “This is something I have fought for in most of my time as an MP and it goes to the very heart of the power balance between the Government and parliament.”

Labour is seeking to maintain pressure on the Government over sleaze by using an Opposition Day debate on Wednesday to push for a vote on banning MPs from working as paid consultants and directors.

MPs from all parties are facing increased scrutiny following the storm over Paterson who was found to have breached lobbying rules through his work as a consultant to two companies, Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods, for which he was paid £100,000-a-year.

The former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox, a leading barrister, has also been criticised for earning over £800,000 for legal work for the Government of the British Virgin Islands and could be investigated by parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone over allegations he used his MPs’ office to take part in a virtual hearing earlier this year. MPs are not supposed to use Parliament for outside interests.

Sir Geoffrey has denied he breached any rules.

Security Minister Damian Hinds said it was vital all MPs upheld the highest standards.

Mr Hinds told the BBC’s Today Programme on Tuesday: “It’s on us all to make sure we are upholding standards individually and the standards regime. It’s not been a good couple of weeks to say the least.”

In a letter to The Times, every living former Cabinet secretary urged Mr Johnson to strengthen standards rules for ministers to make it harder for any who try to cheat the system.

The five former civil service heads, including Lord Sedwill, who stepped down from the role last year, also called for the ministerial standards adviser to be given a statutory basis.

In the letter to The Times, they said that the ministerial code must be “strictly enforced” and added: “People may find ways round whatever rules there are, and we should aim to frame regulations to make cheating them harder.”

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