Starmer brands Johnson a 'coward' for not apologising for Paterson sleaze scandal

17 November 2021, 12:38

By Sophie Barnett

Sir Keir Starmer has branded Boris Johnson "a coward" for refusing to apologise for the Owen Paterson scandal and for "giving the green light to corruption".

During a heated Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, the Labour leader noted that some members of Government have apologised for trying to protect Conservative MP Owen Pateron, who was found to have breached lobbying rules.

Sir Keir called on the Prime Minister to do the same, saying: "Will he do the decent thing and just say sorry for trying to give the green light to corruption?"

Mr Johnson replied: "Well, yes, as I've said before it certainly was a mistake to conflate the case of an individual member - no matter how sad - with the point of principle at stake, and we do need a cross-party approach on an appeals process.

"We also need a cross-party approach on the way forward and that's why we've tabled the proposals that we have."

Mr Paterson was found to have breached lobbying rules in relation to two companies which were paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Read more: Rees-Mogg backed Paterson in sleaze saga as he was 'punished enough' by wife's death

Read more: Tory Owen Paterson quits as MP hours after humiliating government U-turn on sleaze rules

Allies launched a defence of Mr Paterson and former minister Dame Andrea Leadsom proposed a Commons amendment – which Mr Johnson ordered Tory MPs to support – that would have reviewed his specific case, allowing him to avoid suspension, as well as setting up a committee to look at the whole standards system.

But following a vicious backlash, and opposition parties refusing to co-operate, the government made a U-turn, prompting Mr Paterson's resignation.

The amendment would have been rescinded on Monday night but Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope blocked it, with the Commons debating the matter today.

Read more: Labour tabling motion to ban MPs from second jobs, Sir Keir Starmer tells LBC

Sir Keir told the Commons there is now agreement that Owen Paterson broke the rules and the Government "should not have tried to let him off the hook".

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted prior to PMQs that Mr Johnson is "up to his neck in corruption".

Yesterday, Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted he encouraged the Prime Minister to save the former Tory MP from suspension because he felt he had been "punished enough" by his wife's suicide.

The House of Commons leader said it had been a mistake to conflate the wider issue of standards reform with the specific case involving the former North Shropshire MP Mr Paterson.

Speaking on his The Moggcast podcast, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I must take my share of responsibility for this. I thought it was the right thing to do, I encouraged the prime minister to go down this route, and I was wrong, I made a mistake."

Mr Rees-Mogg said that "in hindsight" it was a "really obvious mistake to have made".

He added: "I felt that Owen had been punished enough by the death of his wife, and therefore allowed this conflation to take place in my mind."

Mr Paterson's wife, Rose, took her own in life last year and the former MP had suggested this was, in part, due to the investigation against him.