Owen Paterson: Who is the Conservative MP who’s quit after lobbying uproar?

Owen Paterson has resigned as MP for North Shropshire after the government performed a U-turn over the controversial blocking of his 30-day Commons suspension for breaching lobbying rules.

Mr Paterson has served as a Conservative MP since 1997, and although departing the Commons from the backbenches, was previously a cabinet minister.

Growing up on his family’s farm in Shropshire, Mr Paterson went on to study history at Cambridge University before joining the National Leathersellers College and joining his family business – British Leather Company.

Before going into politics, the now 65-year-old was president of COTANCE (the Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community).

After an unsuccessful attempt at securing the seat of Wrexham in 1992, he was elected as Conservative MP for North Shropshire five years later with a majority of 2,195.

Mr Paterson increased his majority at every election thereafter, up to 22,949 in the latest 2019 election.

The North Shropshire MP served in the cabinet during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition years – as Northern Ireland secretary from 2010 to 2012, and environment secretary from 2012 to 2014.

As Northern Ireland secretary, Mr Paterson oversaw the publication and delivery of the Saville Report on the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, which led to an apology by then-prime minister David Cameron.

He was also the first cabinet member to publicly oppose the coalition government’s Marriage (Same Sec Couples) Bill, defying both Mr Cameron and ministerial convention.

In 2014, Mr Paterson was dismissed as environment secretary by Mr Cameron as part of his 2014 reshuffle. He was replaced with Liz Truss, who is now foreign secretary.

In an interview in 2013 about the alleged failure of a badger cull he had been responsible for, Mr Paterson said “the badgers have moved the goalposts”.

Mr Paterson voted and spoke strongly against the fox hunting ban.

He has also previously been accused of being a climate change sceptic, having formerly described wind turbines as “ridiculous” and “useless”. He has also supported fracking.

From the backbenches, the North Shropshire MP became a leading supporter of the campaign to leave the European Union and was an outspoken member of the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Tory MPs.

In 2015, Mr Paterson and fellow Conservative Brexiteer John Redwood founded the internal pressure group Conservatives for Britain, and formed the backbone of the party’s Leave campaign.

He has also served on many committees during his time as a parliamentarian, including the Welsh Affairs Committee, the European Standing Committee, and the Agriculture Committee.

On 24 June 2020, Mr Paterson’s wife Rose Paterson – who was Aintree’s chairman – took her own life on his birthday.

Last month, following a two-year investigation, the parliamentary commissioner for standards found that Mr Paterson had breached the rule prohibiting paid advocacy by making multiple approaches to government departments and ministers for two companies.

Mr Paterson was found to have “repeatedly used his privileged position” to benefit Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor. The commissioner recommended that he should be suspended from the Commons for a month.

The allegations related to his conduct between October 2016 and February 2020.

Mr Paterson was paid more than £110,000 per year to act as a consultant for the two separate companies.

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs – with the encouragement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – passed a motion in favour of ignoring Mr Paterson’s month-long Commons suspension.

As part of the backlash, the government was accused of “corruption” in seeking to overhaul parliament’s standards rules in an alleged effort to protect the Tory MP.

In the face of a huge outcry, the government performed a U-turn in the row on Thursday with the promise of a new vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension.

But, just hours later, the 65-year-old announced his intention to resign from the House of Commons.

Mr Paterson has three children, and in his resignation statement posted on social media, said he had made the decision to stand down from his role after “consultation with my family”.

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