Lawyers for Owen Paterson have admitted the irony of the former MP bringing a case against the UK government at the European court of human rights, despite having previously called on Britain to “break free” of the court entirely.
Representatives for Paterson, a prominent Eurosceptic Conservative who resigned last year in the midst of a lobbying scandal, issued a statement on Monday insisting he had been left with no option but to appeal to a court whose authority he had previously questioned.
Lawyers at Devonshires solicitors said in their statement: “The irony that Mr Paterson, a vocal opponent of European institutions, should be seeking the help of the ECHR, is not lost. But he has no other choice, as the government has yet to meet its promise of repatriating human rights law to Britain, hence the application to Strasbourg.”
Paterson stepped down in November 2021, two years after the Guardian first revealed he had lobbied on behalf of two companies by whom he had also been paid to work as a consultant. A parliamentary inquiry last year found he had repeatedly lobbied ministers on behalf of the healthcare company Randox, which was paying him £100,000 a year.
The parliamentary standards commissioner found he had misused resources, engaged in paid lobbying, failed to make the proper disclosures and failed to show the integrity required of a public servant.
Boris Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, initially tried to protect Paterson by seeking to change the rules governing parliamentary investigations. But he backed down amid a cross-party outcry and Paterson resigned shortly afterwards. The scandal has since been seen as the first in a series of controversies that culminated in Johnson’s own resignation in July.
In the statement released on Monday, Paterson’s lawyers insisted their client was innocent of the accusations made by the standards commissioner. “Mr Paterson did not engage in lobbying, nor did he use his position as member of parliament to secure benefits for any company.”
The registrar of consultant lobbyists recently published a decision saying Paterson had not broken the disclosure rules because he had fallen beneath the threshold required to pay VAT, and so was not required to declare his lobbying activity.
Paterson’s lawyers complained the standards commissioner had not contacted 17 witnesses Paterson said would support his position, and said he had been left with no option but to take his case to Strasbourg given that the commissioner is protected by parliamentary privilege.