Former UK Conservative lawmaker faces suspension for ‘serious breach’ of rules

LONDON (Reuters) – A former member of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives committed a “extremely serious breach” of parliament’s rules and should be suspended for 35 days, the standards watchdog said, potentially triggering a by-election.

Scott Benton sits as an independent, having been suspended from the governing Conservatives in April after he was filmed in a newspaper sting offering to lobby ministers and leak market-sensitive information on behalf of a fake company.

The findings of the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who opened an investigation in April, were published on Thursday and found he had breached rules that say lawmakers should not take any action which would cause significant damage to the integrity of parliament.

“In our view … it was an extremely serious breach,” Parliament’s Committee on Standards said, agreeing with the commissioner’s findings.

“The message he gave to his interlocutors … was that he was corrupt and ‘for sale’, and that so were many other Members of the House. He communicated a toxic message about standards in parliament.”

The Times published a video in which Benton told its undercover reporters, who were posing as gambling industry investors looking for a paid adviser, that he could leak them a copy of an upcoming market-sensitive government policy paper on gambling reforms.

Benton also offered to submit parliamentary questions and talked of his access to ministers. The journalists had proposed paying him thousands of pounds a month, the Times said.

In his evidence to the committee, Benton described the meeting as “a lapse in judgment” and said he deeply regretted

his comments but that he did not consider his actions to be a breach of the rules.

The committee said Benton, who has been a member of parliament since 2019, withheld evidence from the investigation. It also said he was motivated by personal gain and his comments had suggested this was a repeat offence.

It recommended he be suspended from parliament for 35 days, which if approved by lawmakers, would trigger a recall petition. If signed by 10% of voters, the petition leads to a by-election for his seat in parliament.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Nick Macfie)