Sunak distances himself from Boris' Jimmy Savile 'slur' at Keir Starmer

3 February 2022, 13:48 | Updated: 4 February 2022, 00:40

By Sophie Barnett

Rishi Sunak has distanced himself from Boris Johnson's comments on Sir Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile, as he was quizzed on the resignation of the Prime Minister's head of policy.

The Chancellor was questioned in the wake of Munira Mirza's resignation, who condemned the Prime Minister's "inappropriate" slur at Sir Keir Starmer.

Mr Johnson made a disproved claim in the Commons on Monday that Sir Keir failed to prosecute Savile when he was director of public prosecutions.

He said: "Instead this leader of the opposition - a former director of public prosecution who used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can see - he chose to use this moment to continually pre-judge a police inquiry."

Mr Sunak later told a press conference: "Being honest I wouldn't have said it and I'm glad that the Prime Minister clarified what he meant."

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It comes after Ms Mirza resigned over the Prime Minister's remarks.

She handed in her resignation on Thursday after Mr Johnson refused to apologise, despite her urging him to do so.

She has worked with Mr Johnson for 14 years, and was named by the Prime Minister as one of the five women who have most inspired him.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Mirza wrote: "I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice. There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion.

"This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse.

"You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave."

Less than an hour after the news of her resignation was reported by The Spectator, Downing Street announced Ms Mirza's successor will be Andrew Griffith, MP for Arundel and South Downs.

In a statement, Downing Street said: "The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of Andrew Griffith MP as an unpaid Parliamentary Secretary (Minister for Policy and Head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit) in the Cabinet Office."

Dominic Cummings praised the "moral courage" of Ms Mirza, who he said has "done her best to make progress with a professional team throughout the horror".

"It's also an unmistakeable signal the bunker is collapsing & *this PM is finished*," Mr Cummings wrote on Twitter.

He called for a "flicker of moral courage" from the Cabinet and Cabinet Office following the remarks and claimed there will be a "mad scramble and ministers will be kicking themselves hitting their heads saying 'WHY didnt i move faster arghhh'".

"Nows your moment, find a flicker of moral courage & 'push what is falling'," he urged.

Mr Johnson twice referred to what he called the Labour leader's failure to prosecute sex-offender, Jimmy Savile, when he was Director of Prosecutions.

The remarks - made in the Commons on Monday amid the fallout from the Sue Gray report - have been widely criticised, with officials suggesting the decision was taken at a local level.

Sir Keir described the claim as a "ridiculous slur peddled by right-wing trolls", adding Mr Johnson had "debased" himself by saying it.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Johnson said he understands the Labour leader had nothing to do personally with those decisions.

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The Prime Minister said he wanted to "clarify" his remarks because a lot of people "got very hot under the collar" amid anger from his own MPs and lawyers representing Savile victims.

Speaking to broadcasters in Blackpool, the Prime Minister said: "I want to be very clear about this because a lot of people have got very hot under the collar, and I understand why.

"Let's be absolutely clear, I'm talking not about the Leader of the Opposition's personal record when he was DPP and I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions. I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole.

"I really do want to clarify that because it is important."

He also saw a huge backlash from MPs following his comments.

Tory former Cabinet minister Julian Smith said the Prime Minister should withdraw the "false and baseless" smear.

Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle delivered a stinging rebuke to the Prime Minister following the slur, saying that "such allegations should not be made lightly".

He told the Commons on Tuesday: "I will seek not to intervene unless something is said which is disorderly. Procedurally, nothing disorderly occurred.

"But such allegations should not be made lightly. I am far from satisfied that the comments in question were appropriate on this occasion.

"I want to see more compassionate, reasonable politics in this house."