Tory civil war: Boris Johnson’s leadership in doubt after Owen Paterson row

Owen Paterson: Ben Shephard grills Kwarteng over MPs vote

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The Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating U-turn on Thursday over plans to prevent the former Cabinet minister’s immediate suspension for an alleged breach of lobbying rules by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system. Mr Paterson resigned hours later, saying he wanted to leave the “cruel world of politics”.

But the farcical series of events has prompted senior Tories to question Mr Johnson’s judgment, while Chief Whip Mark Spencer is also facing pressure to quit.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Tory insiders described the row as a “catastrophic misjudgment” and a “s***storm”.

And a cabinet minister told the Times said that it had been an “absolute disaster”.

An ally of Mr Spencer said Downing Street was using him in a bid to shift the blame from the Prime Minister.

They told the Times: “The chief [whip] only does as he is ordered.”

Another branded No 10 “spineless”.

Mr Paterson announced his resignation after backlash forced Mr Johnson to abandon a plan to prevent the senior Tory’s immediate suspension by setting up a new committee to overhaul whole standards process as well as review the former Cabinet minister’s case.

The controversial move was backed by almost 250 Tory MPs on Wednesday, although there was a sizable rebellion.

By Thursday morning, the Government U-turned to allow a fresh vote.

Former chief whip Mark Harper who was one of 13 Tories to rebel to vote against the plans on Wednesday, said the affair was “one of the most unedifying episodes” he has seen during his 16 years in Parliament and appeared to blame the Prime Minister.

Mr Harper said: “My colleagues should not have been instructed, from the very top, to vote for this.

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“This must not happen again.”

Mr Johnson now faces the prospect of a by-election in North Shropshire which will be dominated by allegations of sleaze following Mr Paterson’s resignation.

Mr Paterson faced suspension after he was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

He had always maintained his innocence but said he was resigning because “I am unable to clear my name under the current system”.

He also said he wanted to spare his family any more suffering after his wife took her own life in 2020.

Mr Johnson said he was “very sad” that Mr Paterson was standing down after a “distinguished career”.

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