Former Tory MP Scott Benton resigns from parliament - triggering by-election

A former Tory MP who was facing the prospect of being removed from his seat by voters has announced he is resigning from parliament - triggering another by-election.

Scott Benton, who represents Blackpool South, said it had been "the honour of a lifetime to represent our wonderful Blackpool community in parliament over the last four years".

"It's with a heavy heart that I have written to the chancellor this morning to tender my resignation as your MP," he said in a post on X.

His resignation will trigger a by-election unless Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calls a general election sooner - something that is unlikely after he ruled out holding an election on 2 May and said he is still aiming for the second half of the year.

The by-election will be launched after MPs are asked whether they agree to it, which could be as early as tomorrow, Sky News understands. This means the contest may be held on the same day as the local elections on 2 May.

Mr Benton was elected to the Blackpool South seat in 2019 with a slim majority of 3,690 and Labour would hope to snatch it back in a by-election.

It is one of the "red wall" seats - the traditional Labour areas that switched to Boris Johnson's Conservatives in 2019.

Mr Benton was facing a recall petition that was due to close on 22 April, after he was suspended from the Commons for 35 days over his role in a lobbying sting.

MPs approved the suspension last month without the need for a vote.

Mr Benton, who has been sitting as an independent, could have been forced out by voters had 10% of his constituents signed the recall petition that was generated following his suspension.

He has now announced he will quit parliament rather than wait for the petition's outcome.

The outgoing MP had the Tory whip removed last April after suggesting to undercover reporters at The Times that he would be willing to break lobbying rules for money.

A subsequent investigation by parliament's Standards Committee found he had committed a "very serious breach" of the rules and recommended a 35-day suspension from the Commons.

Mr Benton then appealed the decision, but it was dismissed by the Independent Expert Panel, the body that sits above the committee.

Labour's shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said the MP should have resigned "much sooner", telling broadcasters: "It's absolute chaos in the Tory party today. A divided party, divided from top to bottom, and weak leadership under Rishi Sunak.

"We need this by-election now, as soon as possible. The Tories should move the writ and let's get on and let's elect a Labour MP who can represent the people of Blackpool here in the House of Commons."

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The by-election will be the 23rd contest that has taken place this parliament and follows on from the most recent contest in Rochdale, which was won by left-wing firebrand George Galloway last month.

Earlier this month, Mr Sunak ruled out holding a general election on 2 May following speculation he could choose to go to the polls early.

The prime minister previously said it was his "working assumption" that an election would be held in the second half of this year but he had not previously ruled out a May date.