Trade minister Conor Burns resigns after making ‘veiled threats’ to a member of the public

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Conor Burns dramatically quit today after a sleaze report found he abused his status as an MP in a dispute between his father and a company.

Trade minister Conor Burns dramatically quit today after a sleaze report found he abused his status as an MP in a dispute between his father and a company. 

A close ally of Boris Johnson has resigned as a trade minister after being found to have used his position to try to intimidate a member of the public.

Conor Burns, the minister of state for trade policy, was found by the standards committee to have made veiled threats while attempting to intervene in his father’s dispute over a loan.

A Downing Street spokesman said Burns had resigned following a report from the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

The commissioner received a complaint from a member of the public connected to a firm with which Burns’s father was in dispute over repayment of a loan.

In a damning response to Ms Stone’s investigation, the Commons Committee on Standards said the MP had “used his parliamentary position in an attempt to intimidate a member of the public into doing as Mr Burns wished, in a dispute relating to purely private family interests which had no connection with Mr Burns’ parliamentary duties”.

Burns was told by Kathryn Stone, the commissioner for standards, that his actions “gives fuel to the belief that members are able and willing to use the privileges accorded them by their membership of the house to benefit their own personal interests”.

A report released by the standards committee on Monday also found that he had misused parliamentary-headed notepaper and suspended him from the house for seven days.

Such a suspension is highly unusual and reflects the seriousness of the case, a parliamentary source said.

The report also accused Burns of behaving “disrespectfully” during the investigation.

In evidence to the committee, Burns said: ‘I absolutely should not have written to the complainant in the terms I did or used house stationery to do so.’

Mr Burns, a former confidante of Mrs Thatcher, is a close ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

On foot of the report and details of the suspension, Mr Burns tweeted today that he was resigning from government with ‘deep regret’, but that ‘the PM would continue to have my wholehearted support’.

The cross-party committee recommended that Burns should be suspended from the house for seven days, and apologise in writing to the Commons and to the individual concerned – a recommendation that will need to be signed off by the Commons.

The report said: “The right of members of parliament to speak in the chamber without fear or favour is essential to parliament’s ability to scrutinise the executive and to tackle social abuses, particularly if the latter are committed by the rich and powerful who might use the threat of defamation proceedings to deter legitimate criticism.

“Precisely because parliamentary privilege is so important, it is essential to maintaining public respect for parliament that the protection afforded by privilege should not be abused by a member in the pursuit of their purely private and personal interests.”

Burns, 47, was made a trade minister in July when Johnson became Conservative leader and was a key member of his campaign team.

He was elected to represent Bournemouth West in 2010 and defended his seat in 2015 and 2017.

He served as parliamentary private secretary to Johnson when he was foreign minister but resigned from this post in July 2018.

Burns expressed his regret in a short tweet on Monday. “With deep regret I have decided to resign as Minister of State for International Trade. @BorisJohnson will continue to have my wholehearted support from the backbenches,” he said.

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