Boris Johnson 'very sad' about 'friend for decades' Owen Paterson's resignation

ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports on the political chaos that has been caused by Owen Paterson's resignation as MP for North Shropshire

Boris Johnson has said he is "very sad" that his "friend... for decades" Owen Paterson has decided to resign as an MP following a debacle over his avoidance of suspension for breaching lobbying rules.

Mr Paterson said his children had asked him to leave politics amid public outrage after Tory MPs voted to prevent a 30-day suspension and overhaul the system which recommended it.

The former Conservative minister said he will "remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics", describing the two years he was investigated as a "nightmare".

There will soon be a by-election in the constituency Mr Paterson had represented since 1997.

In a statement Prime Minister Johnson said: “I am very sad that Parliament will lose the services of Owen Paterson who has been a friend and colleague of mine for decades. 

“He has had a distinguished career, serving in two cabinet positions, and above all he has been a voice for freedom - for free markets and free trade and free societies - and he was an early and powerful champion of Brexit. 

“I know that this must have been a very difficult decision but I can understand why - after the tragic circumstances in which he lost his beloved wife Rose - he has decided to put his family first.”

What is the history of sleaze in the House of Commons and why was an independent system set up to deal with conduct breaches?

What led to Owen Paterson's resignation?

Two weeks ago Mr Paterson was found by the Commons standards watchdog to have repeatedly broken lobbying rules by advocating for two companies which were paying him more than £100,000 a year.

The Standards Committee recommended that his punishment should be a 30-day suspension from Parliament - under the standard process MPs in the Commons were asked to approve the sanction.

But in an unprecedented move, a majority of Tory MPs voted to reject his 30 day suspension and decided the entire system for scrutinising MPs' behaviour needed to be overhauled.

On Wednesday evening, after avoiding suspension thanks to his colleagues' votes, a defiant Mr Paterson told ITV News he was preparing to clear his name under a new standards process, suggesting he intended to remain in politics.

But less than 24 hours later, following a furious public reaction, the government decided it was right to back down on its plans and announced Mr Paterson's recommended suspension would be put to another vote.

After losing government support, the veteran Tory decided it was time to quit Parliament after his children asked him to "leave politics altogether, for my sake as well as theirs".

What was Mr Paterson accused of?

The investigation into his conduct found that between November 2016 and November 2017 Mr Paterson made three approaches to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) relating to Randox - a clinical diagnostics company - and antibiotics in milk in breach of the ban on paid advocacy.

He was also found to have made four approaches to ministers at the Department for International Development relating to the company and blood testing technology between October 2016 and January 2017.

And Mr Paterson was found to have made seven approaches to the FSA between November 2017 and July 2018 relating to Lynn's Country Foods.

The Standards Committee said it was an "egregious case of paid advocacy".

The former Northern Ireland secretary said he was raising "very serious issues" in his lobbying, adding that "milk in supermarkets was found to contain an antibiotic residue" and thanks to him, products are "safer than before".

But chair of the committee, Labour MP Chris Bryant, said if Mr Paterson was really concerned about the issues, he could have raised them in a public forum, rather than privately with ministers.

"He did the one thing he was banned from doing - lobby ministers in a way that conferred direct benefit on paying clients. That is forbidden. It is a corrupt practice."

Why did the government initially support him before performing a U-turn?

Boris Johnson said that the process which found Mr Paterson guilty of breaking the rules was not fair because it did not allow for an appeal, and his MPs were whipped into voting to reject Mr Paterson's punishment.

For hours ministers and Tories defended the move, insisting they were not seeking to protect their colleague, but to fix a broken system.

However it appears a torrent of criticism, which featured on the majority of all Britain's newspaper front pages, led the prime minister to climbdown.

His spokesperson explained Mr Johnson changed his mind after acknowledging the "strength of feeling" on the issue and accepted he could not press ahead with a new standards system without cross-party agreement.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the government had recognised a "certain amount of controversy" had been created by the move and that standards must be reformed on a cross-party basis, which he acknowledged was "clearly not the case" with the proposals.

Following Mr Paterson's resignation, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson must "apologise to the entire country for this grubby attempt to cover up for the misdemeanour of his friend".

What has Mr Paterson said?

Mr Paterson had angrily disputed allegations against him, claiming the investigation was unfairly conducted, and argued the manner in which it was carried out had "undoubtedly" played a "major role" in the decision of his wife Rose to take her own life last year.

Rose Paterson, who was chairman of Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, took her own life last year. Credit: PA

Announcing his resignation, the MP said he had been asked by his children to "leave politics altogether, for my sake as well as theirs".

He added that he did not want his wife's "memory and reputation to become a political football".

He again protested his innocence when announcing his resignation, but said he was "unable to clear my name under the current system".

He was defiant in an interview with ITV News on Wednesday as he thanked his colleagues for "ensuring that fundamental changes will be made to internal Parliamentary systems of justice".

"All I have ever asked is to have the opportunity to make my case through a fair process," he said.

"The decision today in Parliament means that I will now have that opportunity".

A defiant Owen Paterson tells ITV News he hopes "no other MP goes through the horrors that I and my family have been through" - he resigned less than 24 hours later.

But with the Tories significantly damaged over the debacle, Mr Paterson apparently decided the best course of action was to leave Parliament rather than accept any suspension from it.

In his resignation statement, he said: "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."

He added: "The last few days have been intolerable for us. Worst of all was seeing people, including MPs, publicly mock and deride Rose's death and belittle our pain. My children have therefore asked me to leave politics altogether, for my sake as well as theirs."