A difficult day for Boris Johnson as he's questioned from all sides over his handling of the Owen Paterson affair, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports
MPs have backed a government proposal that could restrict their ability to take up second jobs, while voting down Labour's alternative plan.
Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday put forward a motion setting out Labour's strategy for preventing MPs from taking paid political consultancy work.
Boris Johnson, on the other hand, proposed an amendment that said MPs who prioritise other paid roles over serving their constituents should also be investigated and “appropriately punished”.
After a bruising few weeks for the prime minister, it has been reported that he told the Tory 1922 committee he was “on a clear road I crashed the car into a ditch” in an apparent admission of his mistakes.The government’s amendment on standards was approved by 297 votes to zero, while Labour's was rejected by 282 votes to 231.The vote come after MP Owen Paterson was found to have broke lobbying rules and the government attempted to overhaul the disciplinary system to prevent his suspension.
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Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Johnson admitted Mr Paterson breached parliamentary law and suggested colleagues misled him over there being cross-party support to protect the senior Tory.
The Prime Minister also accepted that he may have been mistaken in believing that the former Cabinet member had not been allowed to fairly appeal against the investigation that found him guilty.
Mr Johnson’s bid for a review of the disciplinary system ultimately failed when opposition parties refused to join a proposed Tory-led panel to rethink the system and Mr Paterson resigned as MP for North Shropshire. The former Northern Ireland secretary was found to have breached the rules by lobbying ministers and officials on behalf of two companies paying him £100,000 a year.
But he vigorously denied breaking the rules and linked the investigation into his conduct to his wife’s suicide.
Mr Johnson told the Commons Liaison Committee: “I think it was a very sad case but I think there’s no question that he had fallen foul of the rules on paid advocacy as far as I could see from the report. “The question that people wanted to establish was whether or not given the particularly tragic circumstances he had a fair right to appeal.” Chris Bryant, the chair of the Standards committee, which approved the investigation into Mr Paterson, told the Prime Minister that Mr Paterson’s appeal was heard “endlessly”.
Mr Johnson said: “In forming the impression that the former member for North Shropshire had not had a fair process I may well have been mistaken.”
When grilled by MPs, Boris Johnson admits Owen Paterson breached lobbying rules
The Prime Minister angered some Conservative backbenchers for ordering to support the doomed changes, which would have seen Tory former minister John Whittingdale lead a review of the disciplinary process and review Mr Paterson’s case.
Mr Johnson said he now accepted there was not the cross-party support for the government-backed proposals as was suggested to Mr Whittingdale.
“I believed that there would be cross party support for the idea…” the Prime Minister said. “It was put to me by colleagues that people would feel… and indeed I was fortified in this by the reflection that many people would have felt this was a particularly difficult and sad case". Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Johnson became involved in spiky Commons exchanges with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
He said he wanted a new approach based on “two key principles”: that MPs should focus on their job in Parliament and “no-one should exploit their position in order to advance the commercial interests of anybody else”.
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But any attempt at forging an alliance across the House was undermined by Mr Johnson repeatedly questioning Sir Keir’s own outside earnings as a lawyer before he became party leader, during angry exchanges in the Commons.
Sir Keir’s entry in the register of interests shows he earned more than £25,000 for legal work during this Parliament, before he became Labour leader.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson accused the Labour leader of “Mish-conduct” – a reference to talks Sir Keir had with legal giant Mishcon de Reya about a possible role in 2017.
The Speaker repeatedly ordered Mr Johnson to stop asking Sir Keir questions and said the exchanges had been “ill-tempered”, adding: “I need this House to gain respect but it starts by individuals showing respect for each other.”
Sir Keir said Mr Johnson’s refusal to fully apologise for his stance on the Paterson case showed he was “a coward, not a leader”.
He later withdrew his allegation that the Prime Minister was a “coward”.
Mr Johnson was also grilled about sexual harassment on Wednesday. Conservative MP Caroline Nokes questioned the Prime Minister on harassment after she accused his father of inappropriately touching her. Ms Nokes asked if making public sexual harassment a specific crime could give women more confidence to come forward.
Mr Johnson replied: “I think that all women should have the confidence to come forward and denounce the harassment or crime against them, that they have experienced, and there are proper procedures for those claims and those complaints to be investigated.”