Lobbying scandal prompts Mercer to quit Tory whip

Patrick Mercer is quitting the party over a lobbying scandal.

Mercer, the MP for Newark, has referred himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards ahead of a Panorama programme alleging he has broken parliamentary rules.

He said in a statement issued via the Tory chief whips' office he was resigning now "to save my party embarrassment". The Newark MP is now expected to sit as an independent in the Commons.

Reports suggested undercover journalists had caught him agreeing to be paid money in exchange for lobbying on behalf of Fiji, in what would amount to a clear breach of parliamentary rules.

Mercer had tabled written questions about Fiji, forcing a ministerial answer. He had tabled an early day motion praising the Fijian government's efforts "to restore democracy" and stating there is "no justification for Fiji's continued suspension from the Commonwealth".

The 57-year-old, one of David Cameron's harshest critics on the Conservative backbenches, is not thought to be defecting to Ukip and will not stand for re-election in 2015, limiting the damage his resignation will have on the prime minister.

Observers pointed out his exit from the party meant he would not be able to write a letter to the chairman of the 1922 committee pressing for a leadership challenge.

A separate Telegraph story this morning alleged he had reneged on a promise to leave his wife, leaving his mistress with an £8,000 bill for a refurbished flat they had been set to share.

Mercer has a track record of opposition to his party leader after Cameron forced him to resign from his shadow homeland security post in 2007, after Mercer dismissed the significance of racist abuse in the armed forces.

In May 2011 he was quoted by the Sunday People as having described his party leader as an "arse", a "despicable creature" and "the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone".

When asked what Cameron had done wrong, he replied: "He was born."

His resignation will lead to a renewed focus on the government's limited progress on tackling lobbying by creating a statutory register of lobbyists.

Cameron said in February 2010: "It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It's an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money."

This is not the first time the Tory leader has seen a prominent member of his party pay the price for being caught up in allegations that lobbying rules have been broken. Liam Fox was forced to resign as defence secretary in October 2011 over the activities of his friend Adam Werritty, who was revealed to have attended 18 of Mr Fox's 48 overseas trips as defence secretary.

Mercer's statement in full

"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."