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Ex-Tory MP Scott Benton loses appeal over 35-day suspension after lobbying sting – setting up yet another by-election headache for Rishi Sunak in his marginal Blackpool South seat


Rishi Sunak is facing yet another potential by-election headache after a former Tory MP lost his appeal against a Commons ban over a lobbying sting.

Scott Benton failed to overturn a 35-day suspension imposed after he was caught agreeing to act for betting firms in Parliament.

The length of the ban means he will face a recall petition in his Blackpool South seat that could trigger a May by-election.

He won a majority of 3,690 in 2019, in a seat that had voted Labour since 1997. It means that if the vote is confirmed Rishi Sunak will face the almost certain loss of another morale-sapping defeat at the hands of Keir Starmer.

Labour took Kingswood and Wellingborough in by-elections last week, two constituencies with much larger Tory majorities. 

Scott Benton failed to overturn a 35-day suspension imposed after he was caught agreeing to act for betting firms in Parliament.

Scott Benton failed to overturn a 35-day suspension imposed after he was caught agreeing to act for betting firms in Parliament.

Blackpool South's Scott Benson acted as if he was 'for sale' in a undercover sting by the Times.

Blackpool South’s Scott Benson acted as if he was ‘for sale’ in a undercover sting by the Times.

An investigation concluded in December that Mr Benson acted as if he was ‘for sale’ in a undercover sting by the Times. 

A probe by the Commons Standards Committee recommended the 36-year-old serve a ban of seven working weeks, enough to trigger a recall petition in his margin seat.

In their report the Standards Commission said Mr Benton was guilty of ‘an extremely serious’ breach of lobbying rules.

‘The message he gave to his interlocutors at the March 7 meeting was that he was corrupt and ”for sale”, and that so were many other Members of the House,’ they wrote.

‘He communicated a toxic message about standards in Parliament. We condemn Mr Benton for his comments which unjustifiably tarnish the reputation of all MPs.’ 

Mr Benton met reporters in March who posed as executives from Tahr Partners, a fictitious Indian gambling conglomerate wanting to become a bigger player in Britain.

They made an offer of two days work per month for up to £48,000 a year and a seat on the board of one of its firms to the MP, who chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Betting and Gaming.

The reporters recorded the meeting in which he offered ‘direct access to a government minister’, to lobby ministers while waiting to cast votes in the Commons with them and also ‘call in favours’ with other MPs who might be able to help.

The MP insisted that ‘at no point during the meeting did he agree to undertake activity that would be in breach of the rules’ and referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg when the Times published its story in April.

But the Standards Committee said Mr Benton suggested MPs could lobby ministers, set up meetings with government advisers, table parliamentary questions and provide access to confidential documents.

Mr Benton appealed to the Commons’ Independent Expert Panel, claiming that the ruling against him was ‘procedurally flawed due to a potential leak of the Committee on Standards’ decision’.

But it dismissed his attempt to get the ban removed today, saying that its own subsequent investigation found ‘there was no substance to the allegation of a leak’. 

In a statement today Mr Benton claimed there had been  ‘an inescapable appearance of bias’ throughout the investigation against him.

“It goes without saying that the Standards process is designed to be open, fair, honest and transparent so the public and MPs can have trust in it,’ he said.

‘These events clearly mean that this trust has been breached by Members of the Committee and/or its administrative staff and create an inevitable perception of partiality.

“How can MPs and the public they serve have faith in standards process which doesn’t adhere to its own ethics, standards and principles?

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow paymaster general, said: ‘Scott Benton should do the decent thing and resign, saving the people of Blackpool South a lengthy recall petition that would leave them without the representation they deserve.’



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