LABOUR and the LibDems have failed to reach an agreement on running a single "anti-sleaze" candidate in the by-election for Tory MP Owen Paterson's seat.

Both parties have now said they will fight the North Shropshire by-election after Paterson announced he would be stepping down following a 24-hour debacle during which Boris Johnson humiliatingly U-turned after attempting to overhaul the disciplinary process to save him from suspension.

Casual communications between the opposition parties to field a unity candidate in North Shropshire had taken place, but the move was not considered viable.

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Paterson, a long-standing friend of the Prime Minister, had been found to have breached Commons rules by lobbying officials and ministers for two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.

The rural constituency is considered ultra-safe for the Tories, with Paterson having held it since 1997, but allegations of sleaze aimed at his party under the current leadership will likely feature strongly in the contest.

A date is yet to be set for the by-election in North Shropshire, where Paterson won 63% of the vote in 2019, beating Labour by nearly 23,000 votes, with the LibDems coming third.

But the LibDems were talking up their chances following their shock victory in the former Tory safehold of Chesham and Amersham in June.

Officials expect concerns over controversial planning reforms could again feature on the doorstep, as well as the Conservatives’ handling of sewage polluting rivers.

A Lib Dem source added: “The Liberal Democrats are the anti-sleaze party in this election and the best placed to win votes from the Conservatives.

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“We came second to the Tories in last May’s local elections in North Shropshire, showing that we are the main opposition to Boris Johnson’s sleazy and corrupt Government here.”

Discussions surrounding a unity candidate were understood to have fallen flat with it being decided that the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act introduced in 2000 makes it challenging for parties to share data, funding and staff.