Downing St not sorry as MP quits over lobbying scandal

Having called the PM 'despicable' and 'an arse', the only surprise is that Patrick Mercer didn't have to go earlier

Column LAST UPDATED AT 13:57 ON Fri 31 May 2013

DAVID CAMERON'S former shadow minister for homeland security, Patrick Mercer, today quit the Conservative Party and Parliament over a lobbying scandal, details of which are expected to be released by the Daily Telegraph and BBC Panorama over the coming days.

The allegations concern him lobbying in the Commons for Fiji. A check of the members' register shows he has never declared an interest in or connection with the South Pacific islands.

Mercer, 55, has long been regarded as a maverick by Downing Street - but the cause of his resignation will come as a serious blow to David Cameron as he returns from his Ibiza holiday.

The MP for Newark said today he was quitting the party and standing down at the next election "to save my party embarrassment" over the allegations.

"Panorama are planning to broadcast a programme alleging that I have broken Parliamentary rules," Mercer said. "I am taking legal advice about these allegations - and I have referred myself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"In the meantime, to save my party embarrassment, I have resigned the Conservative Whip and have so informed Sir George Young. I have also decided not to stand at the next general election."

A Downing Street spokesman gave no hint of regret at his going, saying the Prime Minister "thinks Patrick Mercer has done the right thing in referring himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and resigning the whip. It is important that the due processes take their course."

The lack of regret could be because Mercer, a distinguished soldier before he entered politics, was alleged to have called Cameron "despicable" and an "arse" in conversation with Sunday People journalist Nigel Nelson at a drinks party.

Mercer denied the allegations but they stuck. It was claimed he was recorded on an iPhone saying Cameron was "the most despicable creature without any redeeming features. If I can think of one... he's very rich."

David Cameron said before he became Prime Minister that lobbying was going to be the next big scandal. Under existing rules, MP must not act as a paid advocate in any parliamentary proceedings. They should not take payment to speak in Parliament, to vote a certain way, to introduce legislation, to amend legislation and they must not lobby for "reward or consideration" on behalf of any organisation with which they have a declared financial interest.

The Daily Telegraph has given few details so far, but it does say: "Parliamentary records show that he asked a question about the [Fiji] regime's suspension from the Commonwealth and put down an Early Day Motion."

Insiders tell the Mole that the real surprise is that Mercer has survived this long without being forced to resign. There are plenty of other political offences on his charge list. He was forced to resign from Cameron's Tory front bench in 2007 for triggering a race row after saying he had met "a lot" of "idle and useless" ethnic minority soldiers who used racism as a "cover".

He then outraged some members of his party by joining Gordon Brown's "big tent" as the Labour Prime Minister's special adviser on security - a role he quit after only 33 days. He was accused of being naïve and an "idiot".

In 2010 he was embroiled in an alleged sex scandal when the Daily Mail reported he had been confronted in the Commons by his ex-lover, a Commons secretary, with £8,000 in bills for a "love nest" they were due to share.

Despite all that, in 2011 Cameron put him in charge with Lord Ashcroft of a review of army bases in Cyprus. · 

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We can see that Mercer abhors, as any good Tory would, the 'something-for-nothing' culture.

The trouble is that putting Parliament up for sale, exploiting public office for private gain, and cashing in on the voters' trust sounds an awful lot like 'benefit fraud'.