British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under pressure to take responsibility for the government’s botched attempt to protect a ruling party lawmaker by changing rules designed to prevent corruption in parliament.
The Johnson government has been accused of “corruption” and “wallowing in sleaze” after it whipped through a vote last Wednesday to block a 30-day suspension of Conservative MP Owen Paterson—who was found by the cross-party Standards Committee to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 ($134,600) per year—by shaking up the disciplinary process.
The government was forced to abandon the plan just a day later after opposition parties refused to participate in the proposed new Tory-led committee to review Paterson’s case and the current standards system.
During a three-hour emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday, cabinet minister Steve Barclay and he and his ministerial colleagues said they “regret” the “mistake” they made last week over the issue of standards.
He said there were “sincerely held concerns” over how MPs’ alleged wrongdoings are investigated, but the government was wrong to conflate these with an individual case.
Mark Harper, a senior Conservative MP and former chief whip, called on the prime minister to apologise to the public and to Parliament.
He said backbench Tory MPs deserved “decisions that are well thought through and soundly based.”
“If on occasion, as on this occasion … if the team captain gets it wrong, then I think he should come and apologise to the public and to this House, that’s the right thing to do in terms of demonstrating leadership,” said Harper.
Before the debate, Johnson had refused to apologise when asked repeatedly by broadcasters on Monday whether he would do so, arguing that there were “long-standing concerns amongst MPs” about the way standards probes were handled.
Johnson also came under fire for not attending the emergency debate and visiting a hospital in Northumberland instead.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that Johnson was “running scared” and putting self-preservation over the national interest.
But Downing Street said the prime minister was unable to get back to Westminster in time following a “long-planned visit.”
On Tuesday, Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, was asked seven times in a media interview why Johnson had not apologised for the Owen Paterson saga or whether he was sorry.
Raab told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 that the government was “clear” that “it was a mistake to conflate two issues, the individual case with the wider system and the due process that should be in place, and we regret that.”
Lily Zhou and PA contributed to this report.