Robert Peston: Who was responsible for the Owen Paterson debacle?

Owen Paterson has announced he will resign as an MP. Credit: PA

On Tuesday morning the chief whip rang the former minister John Whittingdale asking him to chair a new all-party committee to review whether an appeals mechanism could be introduced into the process of judging whether MPs have breached the standards we expect them to follow.

Whittingdale, who was in quarantine with Covid-19, assumed that Mark Spencer had consulted the opposition parties and secured their consent, since this new committee would only have authority if it was seen to be wholly non partisan.

This turned out to be a naive and mistaken assumption. But Whittingdale said yes.

Then in the afternoon, former leader of the House Andrea Leadsom asked Whittingdale if she could name him in her amendment to the Commons motion seeking MPs' consent to punish Owen Paterson for breaching lobbying rules.

Again Whittingdale agreed, because he thought there had been cross-party agreement on all this.

He was told that his committee would not itself re-examine Paterson’s case. But it would simply review whether there were shortcomings in the current system for judging whether the conduct of individual MPs has fallen short.

That said, he was aware that if this new committee suggested an appeals mechanism, Paterson could ask for his case to be reconsidered. So Whittingdale should probably have guessed that some MPs would view his committee as a device to let Paterson off the hook.

In the event, pretty much every opposition MP and many Tory MPs saw the government-backed Leadsom amendment as a shabby attempt to let Paterson off the hook.

The rest is humiliation for Paterson - who felt he had no option but to resign today - and embarrassment for Whittingdale who feels suckered.

The judgement of the Tory chief whip, and his boss Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is widely seen as having been poor.

And although it is now clear that the Whittingdale committee will never exist, public confidence in the ability of MPs to police themselves has been damaged - and it is unclear whether the existing system for holding MPs to the proper standards can and should be reformed.