Boris Johnson’s sleaze farce deepened today with MPs set to debate the Owen Paterson lobbying report yet again after just one Tory MP its approval last night.
Ministers had hoped the Commons would ‘nod through’ a motion formally U-turning on the PM’s shambolic attempt to protect his ally from punishment.
But when it was brought up at 10pm a single shout of ‘Object’ came from the Conservative benches.
Several sources named the intervening MP as Sir Christopher Chope, who has a history of controversial interventions in Parliament, having previously blocked Bills on upskirting and female genital mutilation.
He usually targets legislation proposed by backbenchers, complaining that it is not properly debated and too politically correct – although in this instance he might have been supporting his friend Mr Paterson.
Under parliamentary conventions ‘opposed’ motions cannot be dealt with after business officially ends, meaning the government has had to table a full debate and vote this afternoon.
Government sources admitted it was a ‘head in hands’ moment, with one branding Sir Christopher a ‘bed blocker’ who is ‘long past their value to the private sector and to parliament alike’.
Even Sir Christopher’s usual allies were seething at his ‘habitual’ behaviour. A veteran former minister told MailOnline: ‘Does he think it will change anything? Utterly pointless.’
Another Tory backbencher told MailOnline that Sir Christopher’s intervention had been like ‘picking at a scab’, adding: ‘Chope has done the Opposition’s work.
‘Instead of closing it all down last night, he has allowed the usual suspects to score political points again today. Very unhelpful and naive.’
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is facing pressure on another front after a group of former civil service chiefs penned a letter demanding he bolsters standards rules for ministers.
Several sources named the MP who made the objection as Christopher Chope
The latest chaos follows Mr Johnson’s botched attempt to tear up Parliament’s anti-sleaze rules to block the suspension of former minister Mr Paterson for lobbying.
An inquiry had found him guilty of an ‘egregious’ breach of lobbying rules on behalf of two firms which had paid him £500,000.
The Prime Minister ordered Tory MPs to back the plan and narrowly won the vote.
The plan was dropped the following day after a huge public backlash. Mr Paterson then quit as MP for North Shropshire following the botched attempt to delay his suspension.
Yesterday’s motion would have reversed the Government plan quietly.
Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said it is now ‘up to the Government to re-programme that particular motion’.
Labour’s shadow leader of the Commons Thangam Debbonaire called the move ‘astonishing’, adding: ‘You couldn’t make it up.
The Commons had been expected to formally overturn the vote from last week that had protected former minister Owen Paterson from suspension for lobbying
Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope
Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope has made a career out of blocking back bench legislation in Parliament.
The Tory MP has halted progress on laws about the Hillborough disaster, a pardon for Alan Turing and wild animals in circuses.
He frequently cites a lack of debate, faulty drafting or duplication of law.
Among dozens of Bills he had blocked, Sir Christopher has also opposed:
- Free hospital parking for carers
- Making revenge evictions a crime
- Laws on same-sex marriage
- Protecting police dogs
- Careers advice for sixth formers
- National standards for taxi licenses
Sir Christopher, first elected in 1983, has repeatedly criticised the ability of MPs to make small changes to the law from the backbenches.
Despite his opposition to many backbench bills, the father of two is also the architect of dozens of his own – typically as a way to take up time and block other proposals.
‘Two weeks ago the Prime Minister forced Tory MPs to tear up the rules on Standards just to protect one of their own. Now they can’t even clear up their own mess.
‘Tonight’s farce is of the Tories’ own making and serves Boris Johnson right for trying to sneak a U-turn out at night rather than do the decent thing and come to the House to apologise for the Tory sleaze scandal.
‘At the moment, it doesn’t look like the Tories could organise a drinks party in a brewery. The Prime Minister needs to get a grip.’
Every living former cabinet secretary have called for stronger powers for the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser and said the regulator that examines ministers’s conduct after office should be beefed up.
In a letter in The Times, cabinet secretaries from Lord Butler, who served under Margaret Thatcher in 1988, to Lord Sedwill, who left the Civil Service last year, said: ‘The Government has committed to continually reinforcing high standards of conduct in public life.’
The intervention will raise the pressure on Mr Johnson over the sleaze row that has erupted since he tried to save Mr Paterson.
It came after the Business Secretary was forced to apologise to Westminster’s sleaze watchdog for suggesting she should quit.
Kwasi Kwarteng was accused of ‘bullying’ Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone when he said she should consider her position over the Paterson scandal.
In a humiliating climbdown last night, Mr Kwarteng wrote to Miss Stone to ‘apologise for any upset or distress my choice of words may have caused’.
He also acknowledged his comments could be seen as having ‘fallen short’ of the ‘high standards’ of the ministerial code, requiring ministers to treat public officials with ‘consideration and respect’.
The letter appeared to be an attempt to head off an inquiry into whether he breached the code.
It was copied to Lord Geidt, who advises Mr Johnson on the code.
Mr Johnson acknowledged on Sunday that he had bungled the issue, telling reporters: ‘Of course, I think things could certainly have been handled better, let me put it that way – by me.’
It comes as Labour launches a bid to ban MPs from acting as paid consultants.
The party will force a vote tomorrow on measures that would bar MPs from holding second jobs as consultants or company directors.