Tory trade minister sacked over ‘serious misconduct’ allegations

UK junior trade minister Conor Burns was sacked from the government on Friday after a formal complaint was made about his behaviour at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham this week.

The 50-year-old Tory MP for Bournemouth West since 2010 has also been suspended from the Conservative party while he is investigated over allegations of “serious misconduct”.

The former Northern Ireland minister was a close ally of former prime minister Boris Johnson and played a key role in his 2019 leadership campaign.

He previously resigned as a minister after he was found to have broken parliamentary standards by using his position to intimidate a member of the public.

Downing Street said: “Following a complaint of serious misconduct, the prime minister has asked Conor Burns MP to leave the government with immediate effect.”

It added: “The prime minister took direct action on being informed of this allegation and is clear that all ministers should maintain the high standards of behaviour — as the public rightly expects.”

One senior government insider said that Prime Minister Liz Truss would take a “zero tolerance” approach to allegations of misconduct. Burns was on Friday also suspended as a patron of the LGBT+ Conservatives group.

The Sun reported that a complaint was made about Burns’ behaviour in an incident at the Birmingham conference. The MP said he would “fully co-operate” with the investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him and accused the party of rushing to judgment.

Government insiders said that Burns’ appointment as trade minister last month by Truss went through the “usual” checks by the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team that approves ministerial appointments.

Wendy Morton, chief whip, suspended Burns from the party pending the investigation into his conduct. “We take all such allegations extremely seriously. The prime minister has been clear that the highest standards in public life must be upheld,” Morton’s office said.

Burns, who was also a close friend of the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in her final years, defended Johnson over the Partygate scandal around illegal gatherings at Downing Street during coronavirus lockdown. He claimed in January that Johnson had been “ambushed with a cake” at a surprise birthday party. The former prime minister was later fined by London’s Metropolitan Police for his attendance at the gathering.

Angela Rayner, Labour party deputy leader, said: “After just a month as prime minister, Liz Truss’s government is already beset by scandal.

“This deeply disturbing revelation is the latest in a long line of serious misconduct allegations, and raises serious questions not only about yet another minister but about the prime minister’s judgment in refusing to appoint an independent ethics adviser.”

The allegations against Burns follow a series of scandals this year involving Conservative politicians, dubbed “Pestminster”. Chris Pincher, former Tory deputy chief whip and another close ally of Johnson, was suspended from the Tory party after allegations of sexual harassment over the summer.

Neil Parish, former Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton, was also forced to quit parliament in April after accusations that he had watched pornography in the House of Commons chamber. Another unnamed Conservative MP is currently suspended and on bail following allegations of rape.

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