Minister: 'Sleaze claims aren't specific to Tories, I've only known Labour MPs go to jail'

14 November 2021, 13:59 | Updated: 14 November 2021, 14:56

Ben Wallace has insisted Boris Johnson should not apologise for MPs' behaviour
Ben Wallace has insisted Boris Johnson should not apologise for MPs' behaviour. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The Conservative defence secretary has insisted Boris Johnson should not say sorry over "Tory sleaze" claims, instead choosing to swipe at Labour over its MPs' jail sentences and the SNP's reaction to drinking allegations.

Asked by LBC's Iain Dale if Boris Johnson should apologise for some of his MPs' behaviour – including to the Conservatives themselves – Ben Wallace insisted it was not a "party political issue".

Instead, he came out swinging at Labour, days after he was accused of trying to distract from negative headlines.

He has been alleging boozy behaviour from opposition politicians during a Remembrance event.

"It's not a party matter, Iain. It's interesting – the only MPs I've known who've gone to jail in my time are Labour MPs for expenses fiddling, I think six or seven of them," he said.

Five Labour MPs and two Tory peers were jailed for their part in the expenses scandal.

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Mr Wallace went on: "It's not a party political issue, this is about the regard MPs have for the rules, the sense of clarity they wish to follow, as they should follow, and the sense of integrity.

"I don't think it's for the PM to apologise on behalf of every single MP, I think it's for those MPs to make their position clear.

"I know one of my colleagues apologised today for failure to declare something."

Mr Wallace's comments follow outrage at Owen Paterson, who resigned after being found to have breached lobbying rules.

The Government tried to block his suspension but U-turned after an outcry at that decision.

The affair has since drawn focus to MPs' earnings outside of their Parliamentary work. These include Sir Geoffrey Cox, who has not been found in breach of any rules but earned large sums of money helping the British Virgin Islands during a Foreign Office probe.

It led to questions about how much focus elected representatives put on working for their constituents when they earn large sums of cash from other roles. Sir Geoffrey insisted he prioritised his job as a politician.

In recent days, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross was reported to have failed to declare £28,000 in earnings outside his Westminster job.

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Mr Wallace said voters will ultimately judge their MPs and that he was passionate about transparency.

He also doubled down on allegations last week that Labour MP Charlotte Nichols and SNP MPs Drew Hendry and David Linden got drunk on a flight back from a Remembrance event in Gibraltar.

Ms Nichols said her medication had affected her tolerance of alcohol while SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said the suggestions of an overly boozy flight were "completely false and unfounded, and some may say is an attempt by Conservatives to distract attention from their own travails".

But Mr Wallace told Iain there was "no smear" and that "MPs need some integrity, what those guys should do is put their hands up, and say you know what, we were out of line, we were whatever… we apologise for any inconvenience for what happened, rather than jumping to a political allegation of smear."

He said the way it has been handled by the SNP would leave a "nasty aftertaste" for military personnel he claimed witnessed the incident, and added that "they will realise they don't get any integrity from the SNP any more than anyone else".

Responding to Labour taking a six point lead in one recent poll, following sleaze allegations, he said the Government has some way to go and will be marked on whether it improved people's lives.

"There are events that are driving today's headlines – allegations that we see about sleaze, and the second jobs and the Owen Paterson affair is obviously driving understandably today's anxiousness," Mr Wallace admitted.

Labour and the SNP were asked for comment in response to Mr Wallace's comments.