Former Conservative MP Scott Benton has said he will appeal his recommended suspension from parliament and intends to make a formal complaint over it.
The Blackpool MP was suspended from the parliamentary Tory party in April after being caught in an undercover sting by The Times suggesting he would be willing to break lobbying rules for money.
Following an investigation into the matter, the Committee on Standards on Thursday recommended a 35-day suspension from the House of Commons, paving the way for a potential by-election.
The committee said Mr Benton committed an “extremely serious breach” of the rules by giving the message “he was corrupt and ‘for sale’ and that so were many other Members of the House”.
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Responding for the first time to the Standards report, Mr Benton said: “I will today be submitting a formal complaint to the House Authorities, as well as appealing the decision of the committee in due course.”
In his statement, Mr Benton claimed that the report’s findings had been leaked to journalists the night before it was due to be published.
He said while he was “sworn to secrecy” and told he could only read the judgement an hour before it would be made public on Thursday morning, the committee “did not adhere to its own standards and principles”.
He said: “The night before the report was published, people on the Committee on Standards leaked contents of the report to a journalist and I was contacted on the evening before publication repeatedly by members of the press. This was not the first such leak whilst the investigation was taking place.
“This process is designed to be open, fair, honest and transparent so the public and MPs can have trust in the process.
“This trust has been breached by Members of the Committee. I can’t have faith in a standards process that doesn’t adhere to its own ethics, standards and principles.”
He claimed that the report into his conduct “makes several pivotal statements that are completely factually inaccurate”.
“If those that judge MPs are not being open minded, fair and proportionate in the way that they are handling evidence or examining witnesses, our democracy is under threat,” he said.
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Mr Benton will submit an appeal to the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), the body that sits above the Parliamentary Standards Committee.
It kicks the potential for a by-election into the long-grass, as the IEP will now review the standards committee’s findings before any action is taken.
A suspension of more than 10 days – if passed by a vote in the Commons – means that a recall petition is triggered, paving the way for a by-election if 10% of constituents sign it.
Mr Benton was elected as the Tory MP for Blackpool South in 2019, and has a majority of just 3,690. It had been a Labour seat since 1997 – but was Conservative before that
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both overturned five-figure majorities in recent by-elections.
The committee highlighted aggravating factors in their decision about Mr Benton – including him providing an “incomplete and incorrect picture of what had transpired”.
They also noted that it was a “repeat offence, or indication that the offence was part of a pattern of behaviour”.
Mr Benton met undercover reporters from The Times who were posing as employees of a fake lobbying company.
The chair of the all-party parliamentary group for betting and gaming suggested he would be happy to be paid between £2,000 and £4,000 a month to help the fake company – complete with a logo, website and office addresses in London and Chennai in India.
There are strict rules that prevent MPs from carrying out paid lobbying or advising how to influence parliament.
Mr Benton ultimately did not accept any financial payment arising from the meeting.