A Conservative MP faces calls to be sacked after he was caught in an undercover sting offering to leak sensitive Government policy to a gambling company.
He claimed that he immediately sought clarification on the rules around parliamentary lobbying and did not seek to pursue the offer of a part-time job.
But the Liberal Democrats have called on Rishi Sunak to remove the whip from Mr Benton. The party’s deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, said: “These shocking revelations are yet another damning indictment of the state of the Conservative Party. The British public are sick of Conservative sleaze.
“Rishi Sunak must strip Benton of the Conservative Party whip immediately. Anything less would be make a mockery of his claim to restore integrity.”
Government whips will wait until the results of any investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards before deciding their next steps, i understands.
The Times investigation saw reporters contact a number of MPs posing as the representatives of an Indian-based firm looking to invest in the UK gambling industry. Mr Benton was the only one to agree to a meeting, where he argued that they should hire him rather than a PR company because of his direct access to Government ministers.
He said: “The beauty of politicians, if you like, are we vote in the House of Commons two or three times a day, and we’ll be voting later. You will literally stand at the beginning at the entrance to the voting lobby. And if you wait there for five minutes, the minister has to pass you. And then you’ve got ten minutes while you walk around to the next vote to have his ear.”
Mr Benton also said MPs could “put parliamentary questions on the table”. Asked whether he would be able to provide the company with an advance copy of the forthcoming gambling white paper, he said: “I could guarantee you within 48 hours of publication… I would make a song and dance and making sure that that happened.”
MPs are banned from lobbying ministers on behalf of paying clients or accepting money to table questions in Parliament.
After being told that his meeting was part of a sting operation, Mr Benton said he had withdrawn from communicating with the alleged company representative “as I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary rules”. He added: “I contacted the Commons registrar and the parliamentary standards commissioner who clarified these rules for me and had no further contact with the company.”
Two years ago, Mr Benton – who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on betting and gaming – had to apologise for failing to register his financial interests correctly. He recently said he was considering leaving his current constituency and seeking election in a new seat due to the effect of parliamentary boundary changes.