PM's Jimmy Savile slur against Keir Starmer was 'perfectly reasonable', minister says

The business secretary attempted to downplay a Cabinet split over the PM's claim that the Labour leader failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson’s controversial remark linking Keir Starmer to the failure to bring Jimmy Savile to justice was “perfectly reasonable”, a minister has suggested.

Last week, in his attempts to defend himself over Sue Gray's critical partygate report, the embattled prime minister wrongly claimed the former lawyer failed to prosecute the paedophile when he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).On Sunday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng attempted to downplay a Cabinet split over the PM's allegation, which prompted the resignation of longstanding policy chief Munira Mirza who accused Mr Johnson of of “scurrilous” behaviour.

Pressed on whether he would have used the same words as the PM, Mr Kwarteng told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “I think it’s entirely legitimate… it depends what the context was.

“In that context, I think it was perfectly reasonable to mention the fact that Sir Keir had apologised.

“Sir Keir himself apologised on behalf of the organisation that he led about the fact that they failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

“So the fact that he apologised suggests that he does at some level bear some responsibility.”

Mr Kwarteng, who is also the energy secretary, said he was not saying the Labour leader had “personal blame”.

Gavin Barwell, a Conservative peer who previously served as Theresa May’s chief of staff, branded the debunked Savile claim “a stupid thing” for Mr Johnson to have done.

The Labour leader called Mr Johnson's comments a "ridiculous slur". Credit: PA

The PM initially accused Keir Starmer of having “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” when he was head of the CPS.

He later backed down and said he wanted to “clarify” his remarks, claiming he had not been talking about the leader of the opposition's “personal record” when he was director of public prosecutions.

Lord Barwell said it was an unwise claim to make, especially given the seriousness of the political crisis Mr Johnson is already engulfed in.

He told Sky News: “Even if you set aside that moral argument, on a purely tactical level it was a stupid thing for the Prime Minister to do.

Gavin Barwell said there was a “strong case for change” at the top of government. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

“Because it’s led to the resignation of one of his key aides, it’s led to more MPs submitting letters of no confidence in him. It’s further destabilised his position."

Mr Barwell also said that there was a “strong case for change” at the top of government, but he believes that the prime minister would unlikely leave office of his own accord.

"My inclination is that the Conservative Party would be better making a change and I also think, for the good of the country in terms of trust and faith in our politics, there’s a strong case for change," he said.

"I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that the Prime Minister is going to voluntarily resign."