Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted that he encouraged the Prime Minister to back an amendment to save a former Tory MP from suspension because he felt he had been “punished enough” by his wife’s suicide.
The Leader of the House, Mr Rees-Mogg said it had been a mistake to conflate the wider issue of standards reform with the specific case involving the former North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson.
But on the wider point of how MPs are held accountable by their constituents, he said the ballot box was not the best place for voters to pass judgement.
Mr Paterson resigned as an MP after he was found to have breached lobbying rules in relation to two companies which were paying him more than £100,000 a year.
“Really obvious mistake to have made”
Allies launched a defence of Mr Paterson and former minister, Dame Andrea Leadsom, proposed an amendment – which was passed – that would have reviewed his specific case as well as setting up a committee to look at the whole standards system.
But following a vicious backlash, and opposition parties refusing to co-operate, the Government made a U-turn, prompting Mr Paterson’s resignation.
The amendment would have been rescinded on Monday night but Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope blocked it, with the Commons now due to debate the matter on Tuesday.
Speaking on his The Moggcast podcast, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I must take my share of responsibility for this. I thought it was the right thing to do, I encouraged the Prime Minister to go down this route, and I was wrong, I made a mistake.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said that “in hindsight” it was a “really obvious mistake to have made”.
He added: “I felt that Owen had been punished enough by the death of his wife, and therefore allowed this conflation to take place in my mind.”
Mr Paterson’s wife, Rose, took her own in life last year and the former MP had suggested this was, in part, due to the investigation against him.
But Mr Rees-Mogg said: “It was not seen by the electorate as being merciful, it was seen as being self-serving.”
However, he insisted that he had been approached by MPs from all parties with concerns about the standards systems.
He said: “There was a more general feeling beyond Conservative MPs that things weren’t working quite as they should and that left Members of Parliament at the sharp end of a system that was weighted against them.
“And whether that’s right or not, that was the feeling that was being represented to me.”
“We are accountable to voters”
Mr Rees-Mogg also said there was a difficult discussion about second jobs and the wider debate about whether they should be allowed.
But Mr Rees-Mogg seemed to contradict the Government line over outside interests that MPs would be judged at the ballot box by constituents.
He said: “I think we always want to remember that we are accountable to voters. Now, there’s a problem with this, isn’t there? Which we know very well.
“That on election day, when people go to the polling station, they are not voting for Jacob Rees-Mogg, they’re voting for the Conservative Party, overwhelmingly, and this is true in every constituency.
“And people stand there not thinking, does my MP behave well or not? But thinking, do I want Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 Downing Street?
“And so the General Election is not necessarily a point at which the individual behaviour is being focused on.”
Ministers and No 10 have insisted that while being an MP should be a politician’s primary job, it would be up to the voters to decide whether they were happy with their individual MP.