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Patrick Mercer MP resigns from Tory party after lobbying sting

Patrick Mercer MP resigns from Tory party after lobbying sting

Former shadow minister is understood to have been approached by journalists posing as lobbyists

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP for Newark, who has said he will not stand at the next general election. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA

Patrick Mercer, the former shadow minister, has resigned from the Conservative party after being caught up in a sting by journalists posing as lobbyists.

The Conservative MP for Newark said he was resigning the Tory whip immediately “to save my party embarrassment”, and would not stand at the next general election. It is understood that he had been approached by a fake lobbying firm seeking help in parliament for a fake client, believed to be related to Fiji.

The move comes before a BBC Panorama programme in conjunction with Daily Telegraph journalists, due to be broadcast next week, which will allege that he has broken lobbying rules.

It is understood that Mercer – a former army major who completed nine tours in Northern Ireland and commanded a battalion in Bosnia – had been approached by an undercover reporter earlier this year offering him consultancy advice for an overseas client who wanted him to set up an all-party parliamentary group for Fiji.

He is alleged to have taken payment for the consultancy, which he failed to declare to parliamentary authorities in time.

Mercer tabled an early day motion in March calling for an end to Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth. He has also submitted a number of written questions on subjects related to Fiji.

In a statement, Mercer said: “Panorama are planning to broadcast a programme alleging that I have broken parliamentary rules.

“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.”

The resignation is another blow for David Cameron, who has promised to clamp down on lobbying in parliament but has dropped plans for a lobbying register bill. Three years ago, Cameron described lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen”.

Mercer, who has represented Newark since 2001, has repeatedly been overlooked for promotion and backed David Davis ahead of Cameron and other contenders in the 2005 Tory leadership contest.

He was sacked from the Tory frontbench in March 2007 after he suggested in an interview that being called a “black bastard” was a normal part of life in the armed forces, adding that he had met a lot of “idle and useless” minority ethnic soldiers.

In November 2011 he was involved in a row with the People newspaper after apparently describing Cameron as a “despicable creature without any real redeeming features”.

He was recorded as describing the prime minister as “the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone” and “an arse”.

“I’ve never, ever come across anyone less suited to the job in my life. I would take a beggar off the streets and put him in that position rather than have Cameron. I loathe him.”

Mercer said it was not clear if he had made all the remarks attributed to him and accused the newspaper of obtaining the material by subterfuge.

Campaigners said Cameron must now react to Mercer’s resignation. Peter Facey, the director of Unlock Democracy, said: “Having failed to take action over the last three years, it is long past time David Cameron took a lead on this issue. The government must now legislate for a robust register of lobbying activity and crack down on both the links between all party groups and commercial interests and the ability for MPs and peers to work as paid consultants.”

A Conservative party spokesman said: “The prime minister is aware. He thinks Patrick Mercer has done the right thing in referring himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards and resigning the whip.

“It’s important that the due processes take their course.”

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