Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted that the government made “a mistake” in defending Owen Paterson after violating MPs’ lobbying rules when the government completed its U-turn on controversial plans to reform Parliament’s standard committee.
The Commons leader said he called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to support one amendments calling for the establishment of a new standard committee to develop plans for a new appeals system as he “felt that Owen had been punished enough by the death of his wife”.
Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, Rees-Mogg added: “It was simply the tragedy that hit Mr Patterson, colored and clouded our judgment – and my judgment – wrong. And it’s as simple and as sad as that.”
Former Prime Minister Theresa May criticized the government’s attempt to tear up the rules to help a colleague.
“The attempt of right-wing and honorable members of this House, helped and supported by the government under the guise of reforming the process – effectively to clear his name – was misplaced, poorly judged and simply wrong,” Mrs May told the Commons.
Mrs May said that “there has been damage to all Members of Parliament and Parliament as a whole”, adding: “It would be a mistake to think that because someone broke the rules, the rules were wrong.”
Tuesday’s Commons debate came as the government successfully implemented a U-turn over Owen Paterson row through a new proposal in the Commons, which MPs nodded through without a vote.
Earlier this month, Conservative MPs were given a three-line whip to support the amendment, tabled by former Minister Andrea Leadsom.
It called for Tory’s ex-minister, Mr Paterson, to be rescued from a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons, and for a new Conservative-dominated committee to be reconsidered in Parliament’s disciplinary proceedings.
But only 250 MPs supported the proposal, and opposition MPs promised to boycott the committee before Rees-Mogg announced a U-turn, and said that any reform of the standard system would require cross-party support.
MEPs also chose not to support the cross-party standard committee’s call for a six-week parliamentary exclusion for Mr Paterson to break the lobbying rules, but hours later he resigned as a Member of Parliament said the situation had become too much for his family.
Despite Mr Paterson’s resignation as Member of Parliament for North Shropshire, members of the new proposal approved the finding that he had broken Commons rules by repeatedly lobbying ministers and officials on behalf of two firms for which he worked as a paid consultant.
Earlier this month, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, admitted at the mailbox instead of the Prime Minister that the government “made a mistake” in the matter.
And when he introduced the new Commons proposal on Tuesday, Rees-Mogg said: “The underlying amendment we supported was intended to facilitate exploration across batches of the standard system with a time-limited, ad hoc committee.
“I regret, however, that the amendment mixed a single case with more general concerns. It was a mistake.
“It is crucial that the amendment does not have cross – party support and that is why we have changed our approach.”
In a speech in the Conservative Homes podcast ‘Moggcast’ before the debate, the Commons leader said: “I must take my share of the responsibility for this.
“I thought it was the right thing to do. I urged the Prime Minister to go this route and I was wrong. I made a mistake.
“The question is why I made this mistake, which in hindsight seems to be a really obvious mistake to have made.
“It’s because there was a confusion between elements of the process that were difficult – the time it took when it was one of them – and the personal and the personal was overwhelming Rose’s death. [Paterson].
“I felt that Owen had been punished enough by the death of his wife and therefore let this confusion take place in my mind.
“And it was clearly a mistake. It was not perceived by the electorate as being merciful, it was seen as being self-governing, and it has been neither helpful to the government nor to parliament.”
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire called on Mr Rees-Mogg to apologize to MPs for the damage done to Parliament on the basis of the government’s actions, telling Commons: “Standards mean something. Review means something. An independent system that keeps everyone in it public life to account issues. “
At the time of the announcement of the government’s U-turn, some Tory MPs said Mr Barclay’s words did not go far enough, and former chief whip Mark Harper urged Mr Johnson to make a formal apology.
While the Prime Minister has refused to apologize for the situation, he has said that it is “very important” to get the standard system in order.
At a Downing Street news conference Sunday, Mr Johnson acknowledged he could have handled the situation better.
“Of course I think things could definitely have been handled better, let me put it this way by me,” he said.
But when he spoke to reporters during a visit to a medical center in Forest Gate in east London on Monday, the prime minister refused to be drawn into the ongoing dispute over MPs’ standards.
As for the lack of an apology in the podcast section, Mr Rees-Mogg says that “the issue of an apology is always about sincerity”.
The government had quietly tried to approve the Commons standards watchdog report on Mr Paterson’s “gross” breach of lobbying rules on Monday night.
But this proved to be a failure after Conservative veteran Sir Christopher Chope objected to the move.
The MP for Christchurch has previously used the move to block other Commons movements and defend his actions by saying that measures should be discussed instead of just going through without resistance.
Opposition MPs described the scenes in the Commons on Monday night as a “total farce”.
In a speech in the Commons on Tuesday, Sir Christopher said he “does not regret” delaying the Westminster sleaze debate the day before.
Meanwhile, all the former living cabinet secretaries have signed a letter to the prime minister urging him to strengthen his role as the independent adviser to the minister’s interests and the commissioner of public appointments.
The signatories, including Lord Sedwill – who left office only last year – said “we need everyone in positions of trust to set an example”.
Their letter added that the ministerial law “must be strictly enforced”.
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