Minister Expresses “Regret” Over Botched Attempt To Tear Up Standards Rules After Lobbying Scandal
4 min read
Cabinet office minister Stephen Barclay has apologised on behalf of the government for last week’s chaotic attempt at standards reform, during an emergency Commons sleaze debate prompted by a U-turn on the matter.
Standing in for Boris Johnson, who declined to attend the debate or personally apologise for the debacle, Barclay admitted the government made a “mistake” by conflating its attempts to overhaul the Standards process with the case of former Tory MP Owen Paterson who was facing a lobbying scandal.
Conservative MPs voted to scrap the current independent system following their finding that Paterson had engaged in an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules, before U-turning on the decision following a public backlash.
Speaking during an emergency Commons debate on their botched attempt to tear up the Standards system, Barclay said: “I would like to express my regret, and those of my ministerial colleagues over the mistake made last week.
“We recognised there were concerns across the House over the standards system and also the process by which possible breaches of the code of conduct are investigated.
He added: “Yet while sincerely held concerns clearly warrant further attention, the manner in which the govnerment approached last week’s debate conflated them with the response to an individual case.”
The comments came after opposition MPs accused the government of sleaze and corruption following the incident, claiming they had further undermined public confidence in the system.
Responding to the comments, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister had “damaged himself” and “damaged our democracy”.“We are fortunate in this country. Voters may not agree with politicians, they often don’t, but they do trust that disagreements are sincere,” Starmer continued.
“That their representatives are acting in the way they think is in the public interest, and we can resolve our disagreements in debate and at the ballot box.
“But when the Prime Minister gives the green light to corruption, he corrodes that trust. He says the rules to stop vested interests don’t apply to his friends, he corrodes that trust.
“When he deliberately undermines those charged with stopping corruption, he erodes that trust, and that is exactly what he did last week.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced criticism after it was confirmed earlier today that he would not participate in the debate due to a visit to a hospital in the North East.
His spokesperson said the visit was a part of a “long-standing plan” which they claimed had been scheduled before the debate was confirmed. Downing Street added that due to Johnson’s plan to return to London by train, he was unlikely to make it back in time for the Commons session.
Starmer said the decision showed the PM did not “have the decency to come here either to defend what he did or to apologise for his action”.
“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 Labour leader also accused Boris Johnson of taking a “deliberate” course of action to overhaul the Standards Committee, claiming it was an act of “government corruption”.
“This wasn’t a tactical mistake, an innocent misjudgement switly corrected by a u-turn, it was the Prime Minister’s way of doing business. A pattern of behaviour,” he said.
“When the Prime Minister’s adviser on the ministerial code found against the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister kept the Home Secretary and forced out the adviser.
“When the Electoral Commission investigated the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister threatened to shut it down.
“And when the Commissioner for Standards looked into the Prime Minister’s donation, the Prime Minister tried to take her down.
“Government corruption, there is no other word for it.”
Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle urged MPs during the debate to show the “House at its best” adding it had previously been shown “at its worst”.
“I granted this debate today because I thought it was essential to sort out the mess we are in,” he said.
“We can start to do that today but it requires two things, for us all to calm down the party political sniping and focus calmly on making sure the system is as effective as it can be.”
Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlian, who secured the debate, said the “actions of the government last week have tarnished this House’s reputation”.
“It has hard to be proud to be a member of parliament when as a body we are all tarnished with the government’s brush. When in the eyes of the public we are tainted by allegations of sleaze.
“They say a fish rots from the head down and I am disappointed the Prime Minister has not shown up to answer questions,” she added.
“You can’t help but feel the rules don’t apply to him.”
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