Owen Paterson has resigned after a whirlwind 48 hours in British politics that has seen the Prime Minister accused of corruption.
The veteran Tory MP quit before he could be suspended for 30 days over a report which found him guilty of “egregious” breaches of lobbying rules.
His case became embroiled in a row after Conservatives – including Boris Johnson – voted to tear up ethics rules in order to spare him from suspension.
The Prime Minister then U-turned completely this morning despite the plans already passing a vote in Parliament.
Meanwhile Mr Paterson insists he is innocent and has claimed he is being hounded despite the tragic suicide of his wife.
So what exactly is the row about? Here’s the full thing explained.
What did Owen Paterson do?
A 175-page report found the MP broke four parts of the MPs’ Code of Conduct after lobbying for two firms that paid him a combined £112k a year.
He made approaches from 2016 to 2018 to the Food Standards Agency about Randox, a testing firm, and meat firm Lynn’s Country Foods.
Mr Paterson cited an exemption where MPs can highlight a “serious wrong or substantial injustice”.
He said these included identifying antibiotics in milk, nitrites in bacon and concerns over the calibration of lab equipment.
But the report said this exemption only applied once, and 14 of his other approaches breached rules on “paid advocacy”.
Separately, Mr Paterson also failed to declare an interest in Lynn’s in four e-mails, and used parliamentary offices and notepaper for his business interests, the report found.
The report was written by the independent Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and approved by the Standards Committee of cross-party MPs.
Mr Paterson denied all the allegations except those involving headed notepaper. He said the probe did not interview his 17 witnesses.
But branding his lobbying “egregious”, the inquiry concluded: “No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of confusion between the private and public interest.”
What did MPs vote for on Wednesday?
248 Tory MPs backed an amendment which blocked a recommended 30-day suspension of Owen Paterson from the House of Commons.
It committed MPs to set up a fresh body to look at reforms to the standards process, and whether the Paterson report should be “reconsidered”.
Central to these reforms would have been adding an appeal process, which No10 argued was missing, and interviewing more witnesses.
But Boris Johnson provoked outcry by making the change retrospective for Mr Paterson, despite refusing to add punishment retrospectively for another shamed MP, Rob Roberts.
The amendment also put Tory John Whittingdale – who himself fell foul of the Standards Commissioner in 2016 – in charge of drawing up reforms.
Opposition parties vowed to boycott the committee which would have drawn up the reforms, reducing it to a Tory talking shop.
How and why did Boris Johnson U-turn?
Downing Street confirmed there would be a vote to essentially undo Wednesday’s vote, and give MPs another chance to suspend Owen Paterson.
The Prime Minister appeared to have been blindsided by the strength of feeling at his actions.
He was openly accused of corruption by Labour leader Keir Starmer, and more than 100 Tories refused to back his plans.
More to the point, his proposed reforms became untenable once it was obvious the reform committee would only have Tory members.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said there was “a strong feeling” reforms “should not be based on a single case, or applied retrospectively”.
Despite his own government conflating the two, he said: “I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern.”
How and why did Owen Paterson resign?
The MP quit after it emerged Downing Street would not back him after all and he would face suspension.
He issued a statement which continued to plead his innocence and said the investigation had been a “nightmare for my family”.
Mr Paterson said he would “remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics”.
He added: “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.”
Is there a link between this case and his wife’s death?
Mr Paterson’s wife Rose tragically took her own life in June last year, prompting him to campaign powerfully for suicide awareness.
He has suggested the probe into his conduct “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife’s suicide.
Mr Paterson’s lobbying was before his wife’s death but he said the investigation, launched in October 2019, increased her “anxiety” and “despair”.
Separately, in his resignation statement Mr Paterson claimed he had seen MPs “publicly mock and deride Rose’s death and belittle our pain.”
It was not immediately clear what he was referring to. Allies of Mr Paterson pointed to a moment at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
A small number of MPs could be heard groaning around the time Boris Johnson said Mr Paterson’s case “involved a serous family tragedy”.
However, they may have been protesting at the PM’s decision to highlight the tragedy as part of his bid to block Mr Paterson’s suspension.
What happens now?
There will no longer be a vote on suspending Owen Paterson because he has chosen to resign as an MP.
There will however be a vote, possibly on Monday or Tuesday, that reverses the vote on setting up a standards procedure.
Cross-party talks will continue beyond that date on how best to proceed with reviewing the standards regime.
Meanwhile there will be a winter by-election in North Shropshire, where Mr Paterson has been the MP since 1997.
But Tories have a huge 22,949 majority and have held the seat since it was created, making any upset highly unlikely.