Trade minister Conor Burns has resigned from the government, after a parliamentary inquiry found that he had used his position as an MP to intimidate a member of the public in February 2019.
In a statement announcing his resignation, the MP said it was ‘with deep regret I have decided to resign as Minister of State for International Trade.’ Adding that ‘Boris Johnson will continue to have my wholehearted support from the backbenches.’
According to the Committee on Standards, Burns used parliamentary stationery to contact a member of the public about a dispute over a loan with Burns’s father. In his letter, Burns implied that he could use parliamentary privilege and his status as an MP to raise the profile of the dispute. As part of parliamentary privilege, MPs are immune from libel or legal challenge when they speak in the Commons.
The Parliamentary Commissioner found today that Burns’s letter was in breach of the rules, and concluded that he had ‘put personal interest before the public interest by suggesting that he would take advantage of his public office to pursue his father's financial dispute.’ The Committee has recommended that the minister be suspended from the House of Commons for seven days.
Burns had already apologised to the Committee in March, explaining that he was under a great degree of personal stress at the time of the incident, and regretted both sending the letter using House of Commons stationery, and ‘should not have written to the complainant in the terms I did.’ The former Trade Minister also noted that the first complaint was made against him in March 2019, and the decision had been hanging over him for over a year, causing great distress to both him and his father.
Burns is a close ally of Boris Johnson, and served as his PPS at the Foreign Office until 2018. Their closeness, and Burns’s difficult family circumstances, may explain why the Prime Minister decided to stand by his minister throughout this inquiry. Clearly though, after being found to have broken the rules and with the threat of suspension hanging over him, Burns’s position in government was no longer tenable.