Raab: The whole Government regrets how we handled 'Tory sleaze' row

9 November 2021, 08:58 | Updated: 9 November 2021, 10:37

Boris Johnson has come under heavy fire in the 'sleaze' row
Boris Johnson has come under heavy fire in the 'sleaze' row. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Dominic Raab has said the whole Government agrees its handling of the Owen Paterson saga has been a "mistake".

Ministers have been trying to quell the backlash against their decision to back the Tory, who was found to have breached lobbying rules by a parliamentary standards committee.

The Government tried to support him and reform the way standards are reviewed – but quickly U-turned after an angry response as their actions were attacked as "Tory sleaze".

Mr Paterson has since announced his resignation as an MP while Boris Johnson ended up in the North East of England when MPs held an emergency debate on the saga on Monday.

Read more: Minister expresses 'regret' over vote in Paterson sleaze scandal

Read more: Boris Johnson's poll rating plunges in Owen Paterson sleaze saga

Asked by LBC's Nick Ferrari why Mr Johnson had not said sorry for trying to rewrite parliamentary rules, Mr Raab, the deputy prime minister, said: "I'm happy to say today, and all members of the Government agree, it was a mistake to conflate two things – one is the individual case of Owen Paterson and the other is the systemic process… the right of appeal for anyone accused with not adhering to the rules.

"So we've been clear that was a mistake, it's something I'm happy to say we regret, I regret, but the reality is what we do need to find is a robust, sustainable system… and I think it is also right to look at the process of appeal… as anyone else listening to this show in any walk of life would expect to have if a complaint is made about them, that's how you make sure the system is not just robust but also sustainable."

The Tories have insisted they want a "cross-party approach" to reviewing the way MPs' standards are investigated and upheld.

But their goodwill with opposition politicians is at an all time low amid fury at how they tried to back Mr Paterson.

The Commons Standards Committee recommended he should be suspended from Parliament for six weeks because of an "egregious" breach of paid lobbying rules.

With Mr Johnson absent during an emergency Commons session on Monday which debated the fiasco, and fresh criticism of Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general, for reportedly voting remotely from the Caribbean and earning huge sums for work outside of Parliament, anger at the Conservatives has swelled.

There has been no suggestion Mr Cox broke any rules.

But the Paterson row has unfolded as Labour overtook the Tories in recent polling.

Asked about that, Mr Raab said: "The polls ebb and flow, what we're concentrated on is the business of government.

"The prime minister was up in the North East at a hospital because we're still making sure we come through this pandemic, we've obviously had the spending review making sure we've got the investment and support for working people up and down this country and we're hosting Cop26, we're bringing the world together in Glasgow this week to make sure we can leave our planet a better place for our children, so I think we're focused on the job building this country back stronger and better and bringing other countries together in the global challenges we face."

And speaking about reports Geoffrey Cox was hired by the British Virgin Islands to defend them in a Foreign Office inquiry, having been paid up to £900,000, Mr Raab said: "Ultimately there are clear rules on what needs to be declared and in terms of accountability it'll be up to the voters to decide whether their MP representing them has got the right priorities and that’s the same for all of us."