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Rishi Sunak facing another by-election as lobbying sting MP Scott Benton quits

Tory MP Scott Benton is quitting parliament almost a year after being embroiled in a lobbying sting.

The Blackpool South MP has written to Jeremy Hunt with “a heavy heart” tendering his resignation, meaning Rishi Sunak faces another tricky by-election in the seat.

His departure comes as a recall petition in his seat was ongoing, Benton having been suspended from the parliament after allegedly being caught offering to lobby ministers on behalf of gambling investors in exchange for money.

Scott Benton was caught in a lobbying sting (PA Wire)
Scott Benton was caught in a lobbying sting (PA Wire)

He was expected to be recalled from parliament by his constituents and face a by-election in the seat, which he would have been likely to lose.

Mr Benton won the seat, which had been held since 1997 by Labour, for the Tories under Boris Johnson in 2019. He had a narrow majority of just 3,690, and with the Conservatives currently trailing Labour in the national polls by 22 points, he was expected to lose the seat in a by-election later this year.

His immediate resignation, rather than waiting for the recall petition to conclude next month, will bring forward the contest.

In his statement, Mr Benton said: “It's with a heavy heart that I have written to the Chancellor this morning to tender my resignation as your MP.

“I have always sought to do what I believed to be in the best interests of Blackpool, and of our country. In 2019, I pledged to be an active, hardworking and relatable MP who would listen to your concerns and views and act upon them.

“I’d like to think that I have more than succeeded in that aim.”

The chancellor, Mr Hunt, confirmed he had appointed Mr Benton to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead under parliament’s arcane rules for MPs who want to quit. It is expected that the Blackpool South contest will take place on the same day as the local elections on 2 May.

Scott Benton’s resignation is the latest headache for Rishi Sunak, who has faced a series of devastating by-election losses in the past year (PA Wire)
Scott Benton’s resignation is the latest headache for Rishi Sunak, who has faced a series of devastating by-election losses in the past year (PA Wire)

In February, Mr Benton was suspended from the House of Commons for 35 days after being found to have breached the rules.

The House of Commons committee on standards found the MP had given the impression he was “corrupt” and “for sale” after he was secretly filmed saying he could table parliamentary questions and provide “behind the scenes” information for up to £4,000 a month.

Mr Benton was prepared to leak market-sensitive information to an investment fund and ask parliamentary questions on its behalf, in breach of parliamentary lobbying rules, an undercover investigation for The Times found.

He was caught on camera telling undercover reporters posing as investors how he was willing to take actions that would break Parliament’s lobbying rules.

In a meeting in March 2023, Mr Benton described how he could support a fake investment fund, which he believed was set up by an Indian businessman looking to make investments in the UK betting and gaming sector, by attempting to water down proposed gambling reforms.

Mr Benton also offered a “guarantee” to provide a copy of an upcoming gambling white paper to the business at least two days before publication, potentially allowing it to benefit from market-sensitive information.

He also said he could table parliamentary written questions and said he had previously done it on behalf of a company.

Mr Benton said he could offer “the direct ear of a minister who is actually going to make these decisions” and speak to them outside the Commons voting lobby.

The MP agreed with a fee proposed by the reporters in the range of £2,000 to £4,000 a month for two days’ work.

The contest in Mr Benton’s seat will be the latest challenge for Mr Sunak, who has faced a slew of brutal by-election defeats in the past year, including in Peter Bone’s former constituency of Wellingborough and Chris Skidmore’s old seat of Kingswood.