CONSERVATIVE MP Patrick Mercer has announced he is quitting parliament, amid allegations he broke lobbying rules.
The back-bencher said he was resigning the Tory whip immediately, “to save my party embarrassment”, and would not stand at the next general election.
The move came after he was caught up in a joint investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme and a daily newspaper.
It is believed to have focused on Mr Mercer’s alleged lobbying on behalf of Fiji – a country on which he tabled Commons questions last month.
In a statement, the former shadow minister 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 [chief whip] Sir George Young. I have also decided not to stand at the next general election.”
Mr Mercer’s relations with Prime Minister David Cameron have long been fraught and, as news leaked out yesterday, there was initially speculation he could be defecting to the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
But a Tory spokesman said Mr Cameron thought the MP had “done the right thing”, adding: “It’s important that the due processes take their course.”
The former army colonel was shadow homeland security minister until 2007, stepping down after suggesting racism was “part and parcel” of life in the forces.
No 10 will hope to avoid a by-election in Newark, where Ukip could pose a threat, despite a 16,000 Tory majority in 2010.
However, there will be pressure on the MP to quit the Commons as details of the allegations emerge, with Panorama expected to air on Monday.
Conservative back-bencher Zac Goldsmith said the case highlighted the need for voters to get powers to force by-elections – a change promised by the coalition but seemingly stalled.
Mr Goldsmith posted on Twitter: “If it’s bad enough for you to resign from your party, how can it be OK to continue representing constituents at all? Where’s that Recall?!”
Parliamentary records show Mr Mercer asked questions last month about Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth, and UK investment in its public transport. In March, he put down an Early Day Motion – a parliamentary device used to draw attention to issues – saying there was “no justification for Fiji’s continued suspension from the Commonwealth”.
A BBC spokesman said: “Panorama has been investigating lobbying and the conduct of MPs and members of the House of Lords. The programme is still being made and will be broadcast as soon as possible. The investigation has raised a number of issues related to those involved. Panorama has sought responses from a number of people, including Mr Mercer.”
Stuart Wallace, chairman of the Newark Conservative Association, said: “We will be saddened if these allegations are proven.”
TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Sinclair said: “Newark residents will be intrigued as to why their MP has resigned from his party but not from parliament.
“Mr Mercer’s constituents should have the right to hold him to account for his actions if they feel he has let them down, but they cannot do so because the government has failed to introduce the recall mechanism it promised.”
From battlefield to parliament, via the BBC
Before entering parliament, Patrick Mercer spent 25 years as an officer with the Sherwood Foresters, following in the footsteps of his father who served in the same regiment during the Second World War.
He served in a number of countries, including Northern Ireland, where he completed nine tours, and Uganda. He commanded his battalion in both Bosnia and Canada. He was commended for gallantry in 1990, and made an MBE in 1992 and OBE in 1997 in recognition of his service in Bosnia.
Educated at Oxford University, he left his post as colonel with the army in 1999 – at the time, he was the youngest colonel since the Second World War – and soon after joined BBC Radio 4’s Today programme as its defence reporter.
Within two years, he was selected as the Conservative candidate for Newark and left the BBC, after which he had a spell as a freelance history and travel writer.
His parliamentary career took off in 2001, when he overturned a Labour majority of 3,000. In 2003, he was appointed to the front-bench by then Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and became the party’s spokesman on homeland security.