Cabinet Minister Nadhim Zahawi Admits Mistake Over Owen Paterson Saga

“The prime minister has always been very clear that paid lobbying is not allowed."
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi
Sky News

Nadhim Zahawi has admitted the government made a mistake over the Owen Paterson saga, saying they conflated two issues.

The education secretary said that creating a system of appeal for suspended MPs should not have been lumped in with the row over Paterson’s lobbying allegations.

It comes after an extraordinary few days in the House of Commons in which the government faced accusations of a return to “1990s sleaze culture”.

The row resulted in the government dramatically abandoning a plan to prevent Paterson from being suspended.

The MP for North Shropshire went on to resign from parliament yesterday, saying he would “remain a public servant but outside the cruel world of politics”.

Zahawi told Sky News: “The prime minister has always been very clear that paid lobbying is not allowed.

“The mistake is the conflation of creating a fairer system with the right of appeal for parliamentarians to be able to put forward an appeal process.”

He added: “Upon reflection yes it was a mistake, and I think it was right to come back very quickly to the house and say we need to separate these things out.”

Zahawi insisted that conflating standards procedure reform and the Paterson case was “not deliberate”, telling LBC: “It’s being perceived as being deliberate. It’s not deliberate. Lobbying, paid lobbying, is wrong.”

The fall-out started after Paterson was found to have committed an “egregious” breach of standards rules after he lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.

The Westminster sleaze watchdog recommended Paterson be kicked out of parliament for 30 days for breaking lobbying rules.

It should have been a formality, but the government instead ordered Tory MPs to block the suspension as well as rip up the existing procedures governing the conduct of MPs.

The move triggered an immediate backlash, with opposition parties refusing to take part in what they said was a “corrupt” move.

On Thursday morning the prime minister performed a u-turn and ditched the controversial plan.

It meant Paterson was facing another vote in parliament over whether he should be suspended.

Rather than face a six-week ban, Paterson said he would resign as an MP, triggering a by-election.

Owen Paterson resigned as an MP on Thursday
Owen Paterson resigned as an MP on Thursday
ISABEL INFANTES via Getty Images

During the morning media round, Zahawi went on to call on parliamentarians to create a fairer system with a right of appeal.

He denied the Paterson case called into question the judgment of Boris Johnson.

Zahawi also said it was “absolutely not true” that Johnson aimed to launch a “pre-emptive strike” on Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone ahead of a potential investigation into the decoration of his Downing Street flat.

The allegation was made by the PM’s former top aide Dominic Cummings.