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Newbury MP Laura Farris defends Owen Paterson vote

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Newbury MP Laura Farris has defended her decision to side with the Government in last week’s Owen Paterson vote, saying there was a lot of emotional pressure being placed on her.

The North Shropshire MP, who has now resigned, was found guilty by the Parliament’s standards committee of paid lobbying on behalf of two companies.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson subsequently imposed a three line whip on Tory MPs to back an amendment to pause Mr Paterson’s case and create a new standards system, with Mrs Farris being one of the 247 Tory MPs who backed the decision.

Laura Farris said there was a lot of emotional pressure on Tory MPs.
Laura Farris said there was a lot of emotional pressure on Tory MPs.

Mr Johnson then performed a U-turn after opposition parties refused to back the new committee.

Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News, Mrs Farris said she wouldn’t have voted the way she did without the whip, and that there had been a lot of emotional pressure on the vote after Mr Paterson’s wife, Rose, took her own life last year.

She said: “A lot of things last week got wrapped up wrongly in the fact Owen Paterson’s wife had committed suicide.

“There was a lot of weighing on colleagues to say, ‘his wife has committed suicide’, and even Owen was asking colleagues to consider that, and linking this issue to the reason she’d committed suicide.

“When I look back on it, people were put in a difficult emotional position where they felt very sorry for him.

“I didn’t think I was voting to get him off, but I did know of course it would pause the whole thing.”

Mrs Farris added that she disagreed with the way MPs are asked to pass their own judgement on colleagues through votes.

She said: “I feel very uncomfortable being asked to vote on colleagues – as the Owen Paterson case wasn’t bullying or sexual harassment it came before the House, and I think they should all be dealt with separately.

“It’s still the House norm for MPs to pronounce on their colleagues, and I find that very odd.

“Imagine in your workplace if someone was disciplined and you had to decide the sanction, it’s quite weird.”

Responding to the vote, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Newbury, Lee Dillon, said: “It is shameful that our local Conservative MP voted to water down rules aimed at preventing political sleaze.

“Local constituents deserve better than this stitch up that is dragging our politics through the mud.

“We’ve already seen this government wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, from dodgy Covid contracts to the refurbishment of Boris Johnson's flat.

“Tough rules and independent scrutiny are vital to prevent yet more sleaze scandals that end up with more public money being wasted."

The Green candidate for Newbury in 2019’s General Election, Steve Masters, said: “I just wonder where Laura’s red line is.

“Time after time we get reports of donations from wealthy individuals getting seats in the Lords, or consultancy jobs.

“I just wonder at what point it becomes unacceptable and where she would draw the line.

“If we can’t have confidence in our elected members, what hope is there for democracy?”

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