Boris Johnson told to apologise as Dominic Raab admits ‘mistake’ in sleaze row handling

'That was a mistake- we regret it. We are working across party to fix it,' Dominic Raab said

The Prime Minister is under mounting pressure after two ministers admitted the government made a “mistake” by attempting to change standards rules to prevent a Tory MP from being suspended.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told ITV News the government regrets "conflating" the individual case of Owen Paterson with attempts to overhaul the Commons standards watchdog.

"Steve Barclay, the cabinet office minister, and I have both been clear, as is the case across government, that we accept that it was a mistake to conflate two things: first of all, the case of an individual MP- in this case Owen Paterson- with the broader system and the process, including the right of appeal, that governs it," Mr Raab said. "That was a mistake- we regret it. We are working across party to fix it - we'll look and see what the committee on standards says about how to have the most robust system but also one that is fair and sustainable."

On Monday, Boris Johnson skipped an emergency Commons debate on Parliament’s standards system, as he chose to instead honour a “long-standing” commitment to visit a North East hospital.

The prime minister's absence was filled by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who responded on the behalf of the government.

Steve Barclay told MPs that, while there were concerns with the way allegations of wrongdoing by MPs are probed, it had been an error for ministers to proceed in the way they did last week as they sought to rip up the current rules.

The fiery debate also saw former chief whip Mark Harper call on the Prime Minister to apologise for his handling of the sleaze row which has engulfed the Conservative Party over the past week, with more recently elected Tories expressing their dissatisfaction with Downing Street’s attitude.

It comes after Tory MPs were ordered on Wednesday to vote for a new committee to consider an altered system of appeals after former environment secretary Owen Paterson was sanctioned, only for ministers to backtrack hours later after opposition parties refused to co-operate.

In the bitter aftermath of the row, Mr Paterson announced he was quitting as MP for North Shropshire after 24 years, blaming the “cruel world of politics”.

A focus on sleaze in the Commons was sparked after Owen Paterson attempted to escape punishment for breaking lobbying rules. Credit: House of Commons/PA

It followed a recommendation by the Commons Standards Committee that he should be suspended from Parliament for six weeks after committing an “egregious” breach of the centuries-old ban on paid lobbying by MPs.

Mr Paterson had hoped to challenge the finding through a new appeals system but there was anger among MPs on all sides of the House at the way ministers had sought to conflate his case with wider reform of the system.

Responding on Monday to the standards reform U-turn, Cabinet Office minister Mr Barclay said: “I’d like, first and foremost, to express my regret and that of my ministerial colleagues over the mistake made last week.

“We recognise there are concerns across the House over the standards system and also the process by which possible breaches of the code of conduct are investigated.

“Yet whilst sincerely held concerns clearly warrant further attention, the manner in which the government approached last week’s debate conflated them with the response to an individual case”.

During the three-hour emergency debate, Mr Johnson was accused of “running scared” after deciding to follow through with his visit to an NHS hospital trust in Northumberland on Monday rather than be present to hear MPs’ criticisms of his government’s handling of the Paterson affair.

Mr Johnson was also criticised by many for not wearing a face mask during his entire hospital visit.

The Prime Minister faced criticism for not wearing a face mask throughout his entire visit to the hospital. Credit: PA

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of failing to have the “decency” to address the Commons in person.

“Rather than repairing the damage that he’s done, the Prime Minister is running scared,” said Sir Keir.

Calls to apologise also came from his own backbenches, as Mr Harper pressed Mr Johnson to own up to his errors.

The former Cabinet minister said: “If on occasion, as on this occasion… 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”.