Katy Balls

Owen Paterson quits the Commons – what next?

Owen Paterson quits the Commons – what next?
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Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP. In a dramatic turn of events, Paterson has in the past 24 hours gone from being spared suspension over a breach of the lobbying rules to facing a fresh vote that many Tories thought he could lose. On hearing the news of the U-turn, Paterson issued a statement saying that he will be stepping down in order to pursue a life 'outside the cruel world of politics'. He continues to refute the commissioner's findings against him:

I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire. The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me. My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned. I maintain that I am totally innocent of what I have been accused of and I acted at all times in the interests of public health and safety. I, my family and those closest to me know the same. I am unable to clear my name under the current system.

He says that he is ultimately stepping down for personal reasons — citing the suicide of his wife. Paterson suggested that MPs and members of the public have mocked the suicide — and that his children have asked him to leave politics: 

I intend to devote myself to public service in whatever ways I can, but especially in the world of suicide prevention. At this incredibly difficult time for my family, we ask that the media respects our privacy and lets us grieve my beloved Rose, the best person I ever met.

Did it need to end like this? Both critics and supporters of Paterson are unhappy with how this saga has played out. Had Paterson accepted the findings, the 30 day suspension period would have likely passed without any recall threats — or subsequent byelection — becoming a reality. The fact the government decided to fight it so publicly put Paterson in a very difficult position when they then changed course. 

Reports that No. 10 did not even tell Paterson directly about the U-turn has landed badly with supporters of the MP. There is also a growing sense that No. 10 is losing its grip — instead, Downing Street is in panic mode after being surprised by the backlash. 

While Paterson's departure means that his case has come to an end, the government row over the issue is far from over. Senior Tories are unhappy with the handling of the whole affair by the Prime Minister, particularly his attempts to use Paterson's case as a vehicle by which to replace the standards watchdog. Particular anger is being directed at chief whip Mark Spencer. The bruising debacle is leading once again to questions over the political operation in 10 Downing Street.