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Owen Paterson
Owen Paterson

Owen William Paterson (born 24 June 1956) is a British Conservative Party politician who was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2012 to 2014. He was first elected as the Member of Parliament for North Shropshire at the 1997 general election.

Paterson was appointed to the Shadow Cabinet of David Cameron in 2007 as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. During the formation of the Coalition Government in 2010, he was appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, where he remained until being moved to DEFRA in 2012. He has since been more widely known as a leading supporter of Brexit and an outspoken critic of the European Union.

In 2014, he established and became the Chairman of UK 2020, a right-wing think tank based in Westminster. In 2016, Paterson became part of Leave Means Leave's political advisory board.[1]

Early life and career

Paterson was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire and grew up on his family's farm. He attended Abberley Hall School and Radley College, before reading History at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He then went on to the National Leathersellers College (now the British School of Leather Technology at the University of Northampton).[2]

He joined his family business, British Leather Company, in 1979, becoming Sales Director in 1983 and managing director from 1993 to 1999.[3] He was President of COTANCE (the Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community),[4] the European Tanners Confederation from 1996 to 1998. He was a Director of Parsons and Sons[5] leather company in Halesowen in the 1990s. Paterson is a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Leathersellers' Company.

At the 1992 general election, Paterson contested Wrexham, but the incumbent Labour MP extended his lead with a 2.4% swing.

Parliamentary career

Paterson was first elected as the Member of Parliament for North Shropshire at the 1997 general election with a majority of 2,195 and has increased his majority at each subsequent election, up to 16,584 in 2015.[6]

He served on several committees, including the Welsh Affairs Committee (1997–2001), the European Standing Committee (1998–2001), and the Agriculture Committee (2000–01).[7] Paterson is a supporter of the Royal Irish Regiment, which has been based in his constituency at Tern Hill.[8]

Paterson was Shadow Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister from 2003 to 2005. As agriculture spokesman he campaigned for the dairy industry. He visited Michigan, Maryland and Washington to discuss Bovine TB policy, writing extensively on the issue facing the UK.[9] He travelled all over the North Atlantic to produce a Green paper on Fisheries.[10] Paterson joined the crew of the Kiroan, one of the few remaining trawlers out of Fleetwood, Lancashire, to view the fishing practices that have been created by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy.[11] He wrote the Green paper "Consultation on a National Policy on Fisheries Management in U.K. Waters".[12]

Paterson served as Shadow Minister for Transport from 2005 to 2007. Whilst he was Shadow Minister for Roads, Paterson researched relevant best practice and the latest ideas from Europe and North America.[10]

He was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 2 July 2007.

Paterson negotiated an agreement with the Ulster Unionist Party to re-establish the traditional links between the two parties, which was broken in 1972.[13] This included running joint Conservative/UUP candidates for the 2009 European and 2010 general elections.

News of this alliance was praised by several Conservatives, including Iain Dale and ConservativeHome.[14][15] However, the alliance caused the UUP's only MP, Sylvia Hermon, to resign from the UUP. Lady Hermon retained her seat successfully against the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists in the 2010 Westminster election. The UUP lost seats at the assembly elections the following year.

Paterson was appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Coalition Government on 12 May 2010.[16] He was created a Privy Councillor on 13 May 2010.[17]

One of his first tasks was overseeing the publication and delivery of the Saville Report on the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, which led to an apology by the Prime Minister David Cameron.[18] He worked with the Treasury to deliver his promise of a consultation on the devolution of the power to reduce the rate of Corporation Tax[19] to Stormont. Paterson stated that "Rebalancing and rebuilding the economy is critical to the future prosperity of Northern Ireland and it is one of the Government's key priorities for Northern Ireland."[20] He has been outspoken on the issue of integrated education in Northern Ireland. Currently 95% of Northern Ireland pupils attend a segregated school. Paterson believes segregated education is not working; in October 2010 he said: “there's a school in Belfast with no pupils and there's a school in Belfast with more staff than pupils. That's just a criminal waste of public money. We cannot go on bearing the cost of segregation and I don't see why the British taxpayer should continue to subsidise segregation."[21]

Paterson was the first cabinet member to publicly oppose the Coalition Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill,[22] defying David Cameron and ministerial convention.[23]

Paterson was appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in September 2012.[24]

Despite his voting record "moderately for" laws to stop climate change,[25] he is a climate change sceptic,[24] and has not accepted David MacKay's offer of a briefing on climate change science.[26] During his time in office, Paterson cut funding for climate change adaptation by approximately 40%. In 2014 the outgoing Environment Agency chair Chris Smith said that flood defence budget cuts had left the agency underfunded and hampered its ability to prevent and respond to flooding in the UK.[27][28][29] When asked in a 2013 BBC interview about the alleged failure of a badger cull he had been responsible for, Paterson replied that "the badgers have moved the goalposts."[30]

Paterson voted and spoke strongly against the fox hunting ban, in one speech likening supporters of the bill to Nazis.[24][31] Coming as Justine Greening was removed as Transport Secretary, Paterson's appointment was widely considered to be part of a move back towards the expansion of Heathrow Airport, given his support for aviation.[32] Paterson stated on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? in June 2013 that "the temperature has not changed in the last 17 years ...".[33]

Paterson is known as a strong supporter of GMO food technology. Even before he acceded to DEFRA in September 2012, he spoke at length in June of the same year at the Rothamsted Research facility and invited GMO innovators to take root in the UK.[34] In December 2012, he labelled consumer opposition to the technology as a "complete nonsense".[35] In October 2013, he branded opponents to the development of a type of GMO rice enriched with vitamin A "wicked".[36]

Paterson was mentioned by journalist Benedict Brogan as a possible replacement on the European Commission when the term of Baroness Ashton expired.[37] Paterson was one of three MPs to leave the cabinet as part of the re-shuffle on 15 July 2014, and was succeeded by Elizabeth Truss as Environment Secretary.[38][39] His departure was widely attributed to his botched handling of the summer floods and the badger cull.[40][41][42] Paterson praises Britain's shale gas reserves as "one unexpected and potentially huge windfall."[24] The Guardian reported in December 2014 that Paterson had spoken the previous October at a meeting of the London Swinton Group, which opposes non-white immigration and calls for the return of capital punishment.[43]

In a searing critique of Paterson, the "i" journalist Ian Birrell wrote that Paterson "was hailed by some on the right as a future leader before his bumbling incompetence and climate-change scepticism became too blatant to ignore and he was returned to the backbenches".[44]

Paterson as Brexiteer

Retiring to the backbenches Paterson, long known for his Euroscepticism, supported the successful Leave.EU campaign. Throughout the campaign he was an active voice, setting out the reasons in his constituency for a decision to go it alone.[45] On 26 June 2016, he spoke about his long friendship with colleague Sir Bill Cash MP, who has shared his career ambitions for Brexit. Earlier in the year, he spoke at an international forum outlining his vision for Britain outside the Union.[46]

In 2015, Paterson joined John Redwood to found an internal pressure group Conservatives for Britain which took pride of place at the party conference in Manchester pledging on the fringe to strive for independence from European interventionism; it formed the backbone of the Conservative effort for Leave: "if there are individuals in the cabinet who are not happy with the deal, they should be allowed to campaign," he told The Daily Telegraph, alluding perhaps to the real reason for his own resignation the previous year.[47] He continued to be critical of Prime Minister Cameron's attempts to negotiate a settlement with European Union over net migration figures, an issue that featured highly in the referendum campaign.[48] Since his return to the backbenches, he has been an outspoken critic of the European Union, and is on the political advisory board of Pro-Clean Brexit advocacy group Leave Means Leave[49]

In 2014, Paterson established UK 2020, an independent centre-right think tank, to develop policies to address challenging and complex public policy areas.[50] In his role as chairman, Paterson has delivered a number of speeches and written Op-Eds in favour of GM crops,[51][52] and against the European Union and "exaggerated" climate change forecasts.[53][54][55]

Paterson as Consultant

Since being returned to the backbenches Paterson has gained substantial income from a range of consultancy activities. It has been reported that besides his salary as an MP he earns £8,333 a month for a monthly commitment of 16 hours from Randox Laboratories, Northern Ireland.[56] He also receives £2,000 for 4 hrs every other month (24 hrs a year) to a total of £12,000 per annum from Lynn's Country Foods Ltd, a Northern Ireland based processor and distributor of sausages. He received payment of £4,399.06 from the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association Ltd for a single speech.[57]


In January 2019 it emerged that Paterson had received £39,000 of funding for overseas trips from the thinktank UK 2020, for which Paterson is the chairman and sole director.[58][59] MPs are required to declare the source of funds for any overseas visit worth more than £300, however although Paterson had declared the trips, the Labour party called for a parliamentary investigation with the shadow Cabinet Office minister. Jon Trickett writing to the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, his letter stated “Paterson appears to be both the recipient of donations and the controlling intermediary through which they are paid”. He said without information on the true source of donations, “the register of members’ interests is unable to fulfil its vital purpose”. Paterson has stated “All the expenses incurred on these trips have been declared according to parliamentary rules.”, but has not confirmed the original source of the funding.[60][61]

Personal life

Paterson married Rose Ridley, the daughter of Matthew Ridley, 4th Viscount Ridley and sister of Matt Ridley in 1980.[62] They have two sons and a daughter. They are Felix, Ned and Evie.[63] Paterson speaks fluent French and German.[64] He lives near Ellesmere, north Shropshire and also has a house in Drôme, France.[65]

Paterson is a keen horse rider and racer. He has ridden across Turkmenistan and most recently Mongolia.[66] His daughter, Evie, is a successful eventer who won the British Junior Eventing Championships in 2008, aged 16.[67] In January 2018 he fell from a horse while riding and broke 3 vertebrae in his back.[68]

In February 2014, he suffered from a detached retina and required urgent surgery to prevent loss of sight in that eye.[69][70]

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