There is no calm in Boris Johnson's political situation as the Commons Speaker warned 'our words have consequences', ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports
Boris Johnson will not apologise for his Jimmy Savile attack on Sir Keir Starmer - which has been widely discredited - even after the Labour leader was mobbed by protesters making the same false claim.
The prime minister claimed in the House of Commons during last week's debate on Sue Gray's partygate report that Sir Keir had failed to prosecute paedophile Savile.
Number 10 made it clear the prime minister would not apologise, resisting pressure from at least eight of his own MPs who want him to say sorry.
Mr Johnson's spokesperson acknowledged his original words last week in the Commons were "capable of being misconstrued" which was why he subsequently issued a "clarification".
But people want him to go further by apologising after distressing video footage showed Sir Keir being harassed by an angry mob accusing him of “protecting paedophiles".
The Tory MPs who have called on Boris Johnson to apologise:
Sir Roger Gale
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Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis said the abuse aimed at Sir Keir was "completely unacceptable" but insisted the PM's "fair and reasonable" comments were not to blame.
Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Lewis said Mr Johnson made a "fair and reasonable point" that "somebody at the top of an organisation has responsibility for what happens in it", in relation to Sir Keir's former role as director of public prosecutions.
"That's no excuse for people to behave the way they did last night and we shouldn't give them that excuse either," he added.
Mr Johnson tweeted the “behaviour directed” at the Labour leader was “absolutely disgraceful” but did not address the nature of the abuse.
Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle told the Commons that the prime minister's comments were "not acceptable", adding: "Words have consequences and we should always be mindful of the fact."
He said he'd requested a "situation report from the Metropolitan Police" on the incident.
Kim Leadbeater, whose sister Jo Cox was killed by a constituent in 2016, said she found the scenes of Sir Keir being rescued "really upsetting".
Asked for her reaction to Downing Street's insistence on Tuesday that the prime minister will not apologise for his remarks, she said: "I think that's absolutely the wrong thing to do."
"I found yesterday really upsetting, it made me really angry, and we have to look at why it happened," she said.
"And I think, ultimately, the individuals who were part of that angry mob have to take personal responsibility, but we also have to be clear that things don't happen in a vacuum.
"And while we have a culture of toxicity and aggression and lies in politics, we have to think about the consequences of that."
Former minister Caroline Nokes told ITV News it was "extremely regrettable" that Mr Johnson was refusing to say sorry.
"What people want from the prime minister is contrition, sincere contrition."
She said every MP should "think very carefully about the language we use," adding: "We know that it can reverberate outside of Parliament".
The prime minister should apologise and "own his mistake" she said, "then he has an opportunity to move on".
Until then, the UK will be in a "very desperate situation where we have a prime minister who people simply don't have trust in", she said.
Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said the prime minister is prepared to “smear any person or group who stands in his way and benefit only himself” following his comments about Jimmy Savile and Sir Keir Starmer.
Julian Smith, who previously served as Mr Johnson’s Northern Ireland secretary, tweeted: “What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling.
“It is really important for our democracy & for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”
Former minister Stephen Hammond, one of the 15 Tory MPs to have publicly called for Mr Johnson to resign over alleged Covid breaches, said he agreed with Mr Smith, as did Robert Largan and Aaron Bell, who were elected in 2019.
What happened to Keir Starmer?
Officers stepped in to protect the opposition leader as the group, some protesting against Covid measures, followed him from outside Scotland Yard.
On at least two videos posted to social media, a man and a woman were heard shouting about Savile to the Labour leader, as he walked with shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.
Scotland Yard said two people were arrested on suspicion of assault after a traffic cone was thrown at a police officer during the unrest.
But Conservative peer Lord Lilley, a former Cabinet minister, said “we’re all getting a bit precious about this.”
“Both sides are saying the person at the top of the organisation is responsible for what happens further down… both sides should probably apologise and stop making personal remarks,” he told BBC Newsnight.
Sir Keir apologised while director of public prosecutions in 2013 for the CPS having failed to bring Savile to justice four years earlier.
There is, however, no evidence that Sir Keir had any personal role in the failure to prosecute the man who was one of Britain’s most egregious sex offenders before his death in 2011.
Several Cabinet ministers – but not Chancellor Rishi Sunak – condemned the abuse without addressing allegations that Mr Johnson had helped whip it up.