Former Conservative lawmaker resigns, setting up fresh test for UK PM Sunak

By Thomson Reuters Mar 25, 2024 | 10:38 AM

LONDON (Reuters) – A former member of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives said he would resign as a lawmaker after a standards watchdog recommended a 35-day suspension for committing an “extremely serious breach” of parliament’s rules.

Scott Benton’s resignation sets up a vote to replace him that could cause Sunak another potential headache in May, when his Conservatives – trailing badly in the polls – are already set to be tested in a number of local votes.

In December, a report from the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found Benton had breached rules that say lawmakers should not take any action which would cause significant damage to the integrity of parliament.

The Times newspaper 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, who has been a member of parliament since 2019, 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.

Benton has 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 proceedings against him could have seen him removed as a lawmaker through a recall petition of voters.

In a resignation statement, Benton did not refer to the report and suspension, but said he wanted the next Conservative candidate to have more time to build their profile ahead of a national election expected this year.

“A Labour government would be catastrophic for our country. I’m mindful of giving a new candidate the time and space to campaign to prevent that from happening and it is for this reason that I have made this decision at this time,” Benton said in the statement, referring to the current opposition party.

Depending on when Benton’s resignation is formally processed, the by-election to replace him in the parliamentary seat of Blackpool South could coincide with a swathe of other local and mayoral elections on May 2.

Representing part of a seaside town in northwest England since 2019, Benton had been the first Conservative to win in Blackpool South since 1997.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Sharon Singleton)