The Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed on Thursday morning that the planned reforms were going to be scrapped in favour of cross-party talks on how to handle the reforms.
Wednesday’s vote was met with fierce backlash from across the political spectrum with a handful of Tory MPs also voting against the whip on the issue, which was first proposed by Andrea Leadsom and backed by the prime minister Boris Johnson.
If the reforms would have gone through it would have seen Tory MP Owen Paterson, who has been deemed to have lobbied ministers and two companies in exchange for money, avoid a suspension and a possible by-election.
However, the overwhelming uproar on the vote, which was heavily whipped by the government, has clearly struck a nerve with Rees-Mogg stating that it had caused “a certain amount of controversy” and wished to “break the link” with the Paterson case.
“I fear last night’s debate conflated an individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken. Therefore I and others will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases. We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussions.”
He added that “it is important that standards in this House are down on a cross-party basis” and that the government will now work with Labour and other parties to discuss the reforms further.”
Such was the vitriol and disgust at the government over the vote that it’s hardly surprising that they would jam on the breaks, turn around and drive back in the other direction.
Regardless, reaction to this latest swerve from the government is hardly that of applause.
Johnson’s former right-hand man Dominic Cummings used his odd Twitter style to particularly devastating effect.
🛒🛒 alert: crash, smash, arghhhh ... forward to victory chief [thumbs up, rush from room] https://t.co/UoZlFTiGEt
Rees-Mogg did not confirm what will happen in regards to Paterson and the case and furthermore did not directly answer a question from Labour’s Chris Bryant who requested Commons time next week to discuss the issue.
Lord Evans had already spoken out against the reforms. Speaking at an Institute for Government event, the former MI5 chief said: “It cannot be right to propose an overhaul of the entire regulatory system in order to postpone or prevent sanctions in a very serious case of paid lobbying by an MP.
“And it cannot be right to propose that the standards system in the House of Commons should be reviewed by a select committee chaired by a member of the ruling party and with a majority of members from that same party.
“This extraordinary proposal is deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy. The political system in this country does not belong to one party or even to one Government, it is a common good that we have all inherited from our forebears and that we all have a responsibility to preserve and to improve.”
Evans also added that Johnson and others may have fallen foul of the Nolan principles on public life, which are contained within the ministerial code. “The seven principles of public life that all governments have espoused for over 25 years require that ministers and MPs should show leadership in upholding ethical standards in public life,” he said. “I find it hard to see how yesterday’s actions in any way meet that test.”
Just this morning, before the u-turn was announced, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who didn’t vote yesterday due to him being in Glasgow at COP26, said he “didn’t feel shame at all” despite the government being lambasted for the vote.
#KayBurley - Do you feel shame over the #OwenPaterson vote?
Kwasi Kwarteng - "I don't feel shame at all" https://t.co/lPDUP41m0k
Meanwhile, shadow commons leader Thangam Debbonaire called for the PM to “immediately distance himself from these latest attempts to poison British politics”.
“Having already ripped up the rules policing MPs’ behaviour to protect one of their own, it is appalling that this corrupt government is now trying to bully the standards commissioner out of her job,” the Labour MP added.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain accused the Tories of “governing like the mafia” by “targeting those who uphold the rules rather than those who break them”.
“These shameful attempts to drag the standards commissioner through the mud have to be called out for what they truly are – an attack on our democracy,” she added.
Boris Johnson has since moved to promise MPs a fresh vote on Owen Paterson’s suspension for an alleged breach of lobbying rules “as soon as possible” after performing an extraordinary U-turn.
Government whips are said to be working to reschedule a vote on a six-week suspension for Mr Paterson after he was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000-per-year.