Boris Johnson has tried and failed to draw a line under the sleaze scandal. Two weeks after whipping Conservative MPs to back an amendment rejecting a 30-day suspension of Tory colleague Owen Paterson, the government last night put forward a motion to accept the report that found the backbencher had committed an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules. The Commons had been set to pass the motion without a vote, rolling back the controversial attempt to reform the standards system under the Leadsom amendment. Tory MP Christopher Chope, however, had other ideas.
Ministers pushed the motion until the end of the day and it only needed one MP to object for it to fail. Chope – the same MP who blocked legislation to make upskirting a specific offence, attempts to toughen laws on female genital mutilation and a debate on the Hillsborough disaster – did so. One minister described the backbencher as a “Jurassic embarrassment”, and it certainly is embarrassing for the government. Not least because there will now be a one-hour debate on the Paterson motion today. MPs will have the chance to discuss Tory attempts to rig the standards systems after one of their own was caught red-handed.
“Tonight’s farce is of the Tories’ own making and serves Johnson right for trying to sneak a U-turn out at night rather than do the decent thing and come to the House to apologise for the Tory sleaze scandal,” Thangam Debbonaire said. Her party will use an opposition day this week to table a motion banning paid consultancies and directorships. Such votes are not usually binding on the government, but it is understood that Labour believes it can be drafted in a way that means it has legal effect. Either way, the sleaze scandal is set to run on for another week. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.