Boris dodges Commons sleaze showdown claiming 'nothing more to say'

Flustered Boris claims there is ‘nothing more to say’ on Owen Paterson case and REFUSES to apologise for sleaze shambles as he is monstered for DUCKING Commons showdown – while poll shows Labour ahead for first time in a YEAR

  • Boris Johnson is missing an emergency debate on the government’s sleaze row
  • PM insisted there is ‘not much more to be said’ about the Owen Paterson case
  • Labour accused Mr Johnson of ‘running scared’ amid Tory alarm at the damage

Flustered Boris Johnson today claimed there is ‘not much more to say’ about the Owen Paterson case and refused to apologise as he was monstered for ducking a Commons showdown.

The PM insisted he is unable to get back from a ‘long-planned’ visit to the North East in time for the Commons debate on his abortive bid to save his ally from lobbying punishment. No10 blamed the fact he is travelling by train – even though it does not start until around 4.30pm.  

Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to apologise despite Tory fury at the bungled tactic, which ended with an humiliating No10 U-turn and Mr Paterson quitting. 

‘I don’t think there is much more to be said about that particular case,’ he told reporters in a scratchy interview during which he constantly tried to change the subject to Covid. 

The blustering came as an Ipsos MORI poll for the Standard gave the latest indication that the party has taken a huge hit, even though ministers have dismissed the row as a ‘storm in a teacup’. 

Although much of the fieldwork was carried out before the dramatic vote last Wednesday, the Tories were down four points since September on 35 per cent.

Crucially that was below Labour, with Keir Starmer’s party on 36 per cent support. It is the first time in a year that Labour has been ahead with the pollster.

Sir Keir seized on Mr Johnson’s absence this afternoon, accusing him of lacking ‘the decency either to defend or apologise for his actions’. 

‘Rather than repairing the damage he has done, the Prime Minister is running scared,’ he said. 

‘When required to lead, he has chosen to hide. His concern, as always, is self-preservation not the national interest.’

The debate dodge has echoes of Mr Johnson’s decision when Foreign Secretary to make a whistlestop visit to Afghanistan on the day of the crunch vote on expanding Heathrow Airport – something he might otherwise have needed to resign to oppose.  

The premier has been left fighting on multiple fronts after he was accused of targeting standards commissioner Kathryn Stone following a series of clashes.

He could still face a Commons investigation into the funding of his ‘Wallpapergate’ renovation of the No11 residence.

And Mr Johnson has also refused to declare his recent ‘freebie’ holiday to Spain on the parliamentary register – instead unusually using the ministerial interests list, which meant he did not have to disclose the value of the gift. 

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle is expected to lay down a marker about his determination to protect the integrity of parliament when he kicked off the debate later.

‘Last week did not show our democracy in the best light. I hope today’s debate will give Members the chance to express their views and help us move forward. I also hope MPs will consider their language to get the right message across,’ he said in a statement.  

Mr Johnson chatted to patients at Hexham Hospital during his visit today

Boris Johnson’s (left) abortive bid to save ally Owen Paterson (right) from lobbying punishment will come under fresh fire in the Commons this afternoon

Boris Johnson insisted he is unable to get back from a ‘long-planned’ visit to the North East in time for the Commons debate on his abortive bid to save his ally from lobbying punishment

Sir Lindsay Hoyle is expected to lay down a marker about his determination to protect the integrity of parliament later

An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard today showed that the Tories have lost their lead and slipped behind Labour

It is the first time in around a year that the pollster has shown a lead for Labour

The debacle over the Owen Paterson report was far from the first time Boris Johnson has clashed with Commons standards commissioner Kathryn Stone. 

And their relationship is unlikely to get easier, as he could face another probe by the watchdog into the ‘Wallpapergate’ controversy over refurbishment of his grace-and-favour flat – as well as his refusal to declare his recent ‘freebie’ Marbella holiday on the parliamentary register . 

Ms Stone has previously castigated the Prime Minister over a lavish £15,000 Caribbean holiday funded by Tory donors.

But he was saved from punishment – which could have included being the first serving premier to be suspended from the Commons, by MPs who overturned her ruling.

She has also pulled him up over an ‘over-casual attitude’ to declaring his own personal financial interests to Parliament, including a six-figure stake in an English country mansion.

Mr Johnson was dramatically cleared in the summer of breaking Commons rules over a ‘freebie’ trip to the millionaire’s playground of Mustique with Carrie – despite Ms Stone condemning his behaviour and the ‘unusual’ arrangements. 

The cross-party Standards Committee found the PM had made an ‘accurate and complete’ declaration about the holiday in December 2019, saying it was a donation from Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross even though the couple did not stay in his villa.

The committee – chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant – overruled Ms Stone after she concluded that Mr Johnson did breach the Code of Conduct for MPs during a 15-month wrangle after initially failing to provide a full explanation, slamming him for ‘not showing the accountability required of those in public life’.

The report also suggested that the premier himself did not know exactly how the jaunt was being funded until after he arrived on Mustique and realised he was not staying in Mr Ross’s own property. 

Ms Stone has revealed she will consider whether to launch an investigation into Mr Johnson’s conduct when Tory donors initially part-funded the lavish overhaul of his residence above No11 Downing Street.

A decision will be made once the ongoing Electoral Commission probe is complete. 

Mr Johnson is also facing a backlash over refusing to declare his recent holiday to Lord Goldsmith’s luxury villa near Marbella on the Commons register.

The decision to use the ministerial register, which means he does not have to disclose the value of the gift, could be a further flashpoint with Ms Stone.

One Commons source told MailOnline that as the villa is owned by the Goldsmith family it cannot be treated solely as a gift from Lord Goldsmith – which could torpedo No10’s arguments against putting it on the MP register. 

In the three-hour Commons debate this afternoon, MPs will call on Mr Johnson categorically to rule out a peerage for Mr Paterson and to launch an investigation into £600million of Covid contracts awarded to one of the firms he worked for.

But speaking to broadcasters on a visit to a hospital in Hexham, the PM confirmed he will not be there in person.

‘What we’ve got to make sure is that we take all this very, very seriously and that we get it right,’ he said.

‘There’s a debate today, unfortunately I can’t be there because I had a long-standing engagement up here.’

The PM said opposition parties wanted to focus on ‘a particular case, a particular MP who suffered a serious personal tragedy, and who’s now resigned’.

He said: ‘I don’t think there’s much more to be said about that particular case, I really don’t, but what we do need to do is look also at the process, and that is what we were trying to do last week.’

He said he hoped there would be ‘cross-party agreement on a way forward, including an appeals process’.

‘I have the utmost respect for the Speaker and his general desire to produce a cross-party outcome, cross-party reform of the system, which is what we were trying to achieve last week,’ he said. 

Asked if MPs should be banned from taking second jobs, Mr Johnson said: ‘All those kind of things are issues that the Speaker’s panel – whatever he is going to set up – will have a look at.’

He added: ‘If there is anything positive to come out of the whole thing, it is that, as far as I can make out, the Speaker is determined to try to move us all forward with a system whereby we have a cross-party approach, which is what we were trying achieve last week.’

Pressed on whether Mr Paterson could be in line for a peerage, he said: ‘There has been absolutely no discussion of that.’ 

No10 said the premier is travelling by train. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay will represent the government instead. 

Reminded that Mr Johnson had flown back from the COP26 summit last week apparently in order to attend a social dinner, the spokesman said: ‘I gave you the reason for that flight before.’

He added: ‘We think the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whose department is the lead on this area, is the right person to lead (the debate).’

Labour MP Catherin McKinnell was among those deriding Mr Johnson’s inability to make the 300-mile trip from Hexham in time.

‘As someone who travels regularly up & down the country from the North East to represent my constituents in Parliament (without ever using a private jet) that sounds like a very lame excuse to me – more like a PM avoiding scrutiny of the sleaze his Party & Government are mired in,’ she tweeted.  

Environment Secretary George Eustice inflamed Tory fury yesterday by claiming on Sky News that the row over Mr Paterson was a ‘storm in a teacup’.

The minister’s comments were branded ‘unhelpful’ and ‘complete nonsense’ in a sign of the anger on the Conservative Party benches. 

Tory former minister Tobias Ellwood also underlined how serious the row was, telling the BBC: ‘We should not deny that this was a dark week for British democracy.’

Sir Keir will push Mr Johnson to ‘commit to a full, transparent investigation into the more than £600million of taxpayer money handed without competition or tender to Randox’, one of the firms Mr Paterson worked for.

A Downing Street source last night said a peerage was ‘not on the cards’ for Mr Paterson, after Mr Eustice earlier insisted it was ‘highly unlikely’. 

And a close friend of Mr Paterson said a peerage had not been ‘mentioned, offered or sought’. They insisted that he did not plan to apply for a Commons pass, even though he is eligible for one as a former MP.

Sent out to bat for the government this morning, Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she thought Mr Johnson would merely watch the Commons debate on TV on while he worked in his office. 

She also appeared to signal a truce in the campaign against Ms Stone, insisting she will remain in the key post.    

Ms Trevelyan said she did not know for certain whether the PM would be there, but told Sky News: ‘My opinion would be that no, he shouldn’t be there, he will no doubt – as we all do – have the House of Commons on in his office as he’s dealing with many, many other issues that only a Prime Minister that can deal with.

‘He will get a briefing of the key issues raised by colleagues from across the House later on, I believe that the Leader and other ministers will be well placed to take the despatch box this afternoon.’

Ms Trevelyan said she had ‘no doubt’ Ms Stone will stay in her job – despite fellow Cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng suggesting last week she would have to quit.

She said Ms Stone was ‘independently appointed’, adding: ‘She will continue to do her job and I’m (in) no doubt she will.’

She said: ‘The Speaker of the House, I think, will be making a statement about considering how to mend the way the committee works, that Kathryn runs.

Labour MP Catherin McKinnell was among those deriding Mr Johnson’s inability to make the 300-mile trip from Hexham in time

‘I think that’s the conversation that we need to have, because colleagues have for some time felt that the way the committee works doesn’t have all the relevant protections and safeguards that it should have.

‘We will continue to do that and I hope that Kathryn’s situation will be eased, and that those aggressive voices will be removed from her environment.’

She added: ‘I think Kathryn needs to be allowed to get on with her job.’

Ms Trevelyan suggested the issue of second jobs for MPs should be ‘looked at again’.

She said: ‘I think the question of whether MPs having jobs that involve lobbying, I think, perhaps should be looked at again.

‘Across the board, I don’t think we should have a removal of the ability to maintain or have a second job because it brings a richness to our role as Members of Parliament as well as the work we do day to day with our constituents.’

Ms Trevelyan said: ‘Speaking as a woman who has also had terrible death threats, it is incredibly hard and we have to be very resilient these days, particularly as women in public life, and it is very hard and it is always unacceptable.

She added: ‘I hope that, obviously, Kathryn has the support that she needs through this but this is something that comes at many women, we’ve heard Angela Rayner has been under attack … whether or not how she speaks her mind is her own choice, but it is always unacceptable for there to be death threats.

‘Following the tragic, ghastly death of my colleague David Amess just a few weeks ago, we continue to know that we have to be incredibly resilient as politicians and people in public life.

‘This is not how we want our country to be and we need to all work forward to make sure that the commentary is considered and carefully done, and that we can all do our jobs across the piste in an environment of safety.’ 

Meanwhile, the Commons standards committee has revealed it could conclude its own inquiry into the conduct rules and MPs’ second jobs before Christmas – potentially recommending a ban on consultancy work. 

Chairman Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, today claimed there had been an attempt to ‘intimidate’ Ms Stone and the government should have kept its ‘grubby mitts’ off the process.  

Mr Paterson stepped down as an MP last week after ministers were forced to abandon efforts to save him. 

Mr Johnson dropped a bid to prevent Mr Paterson being suspended from Parliament for lobbying on behalf of two firms which paid him more than £500,000.

The scale of the damage was underlined yesterday with an Opinium poll for the Observer putting the Tories on 37 per cent, down three points on last week

He resigned hours later, saying he wanted to leave behind the ‘cruel world of politics’.

It has emerged Mr Paterson, a former Cabinet minister, will be able to retain access to the Commons as he is entitled to apply for a so-called ‘category X’ pass for former parliamentarians.

Some 283 ex-MPs possess the cards which give them continued entry, including to Parliament’s restaurants and bars, without being required to register their financial interests as sitting MPs and peers must. But they are barred from lobbying under Commons rules.

Current passholders include Sir Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary who is deputy chairman of an oil firm, Michael Dugher, a former Labour MP who is chief executive of the gambling industry body the Betting and Gaming Council, and Sir Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister who works at Facebook.  

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