Boris braces for backlash in emergency debate on sleaze TODAY

Boris braces for backlash in emergency debate on sleaze TODAY

November 8, 2021

Boris braces for backlash from Tories and Speaker Lindsay Hoyle over sleaze shambles as MPs hold emergency debate TODAY – while PM faces fresh showdowns with watchdog over Spain holiday and ‘Wallpapergate’

  • Ministers faced furious claims they ‘still don’t get it’ over Owen Paterson row 
  • Environment Secretary claimed the Paterson row was a ‘storm in a teacup’
  • The minister’s comments were branded ‘unhelpful’ and ‘complete nonsense’

Conservatives have already been venting their anger at the bungled tactic, which ended with an humiliating No10 U-turn and Mr Paterson quitting. 

Polls suggest that the party has taken huge damage from the row, even though ministers have dismissed it as a ‘storm in a teacup’. 

But Mr Johnson – who might well not attend the debate – has been left fighting on a series of fronts after he was accused of targeting standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson following a series of clashes.

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

And he 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. 

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

The Commons standards committee said this morning 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 Hudson and the government should have kept its ‘grubby mitts’ off the process.  


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

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

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 ‘Walpapergate’ 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. 

In another looming tension, 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.

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. 

At an emergency three-hour Commons debate this afternoon, MPs will call on Mr Johnson 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.

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.’

Ahead of today’s debate, Keir Starmer has called on Mr Johnson to ‘answer, apologise and act’ over the scandal. And to confirm that Mr Paterson won’t be given a peerage.

He 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 did not think Mr Johnson needed to be at the debate into standards on Monday.

She said she did not know 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.

‘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.’

 

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.

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.  

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

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