Labour will force vote to “clean up politics” after PM “debased” standards

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour is set to force a parliamentary vote backing the recommendations of an independent watchdog as the opposition party accuses Boris Johnson of having “downgraded, debased and demeaned standards in public life” in recent months.

Speaking ahead of an opposition day debate in parliament on Tuesday, Labour’s Angela Rayner argued that the Prime Minister has “sunk into the gutter” but said Conservative MPs have the opportunity to “do the decent thing”.

“It’s time to stop the rot. This Prime Minister’s own anti-corruption tsar walked out on him over his blatant breach of the rules, in the wake of stinging criticism from his top ethics advisers,” the deputy Labour leader said.

“There is no one and nothing he won’t drag down in his desperation to cling onto power. The committee on standards in public life was founded by Sir John Major a quarter of a century ago but its role has never been more important in upholding standards in the wake of sleaze, scandal and shame.

“Labour is urging MPs of all parties to support this independent, cross-party package of reforms to tackle decaying standards. if they fail to back this move to clean up politics, it is they who will have to look their constituents in the eye.”

Labour’s motion will ask MPs to back the recommendations made by the committee on standards in public life in its November 2021 report, Upholding Standards in Public Life. The cross-party committee recommended:

  • “Greater independence in the regulation of the ministerial code, which lags behind similar arrangements for MPs, peers, and civil servants. The independent adviser should be able to initiate investigations and determine breaches into breaches of the ministerial code;
  • “The requirement on the Prime Minister to issue the ministerial code should be enshrined in primary legislation;
  • “The scope of the business appointment rules should be expanded, and the rules should be enforced through legal arrangements;
  • “The business appointment rules should be amended to allow [the advisory committee on business appointments] and government departments to issue a ban on lobbying of up to five years;
  • “ACOBA rulings should be directly binding on applicants;
  • “Reforms to the powers of the commissioner for public appointments are needed to provide a better guarantee of the independence of assessment panels;
  • “More proactive, timely and meaningful transparency to both facilitate scrutiny and accountability and deter inappropriate lobbying.”

Rayner said a Labour government would establish an “integrity and ethics commission to clean up politics”, and argued that backing the recommendations by the committee is an “important first step all MPs can take today to show they are serious about reversing the damage that has been done by this destructive Prime Minister”.

The intervention from the opposition party comes after Johnson amended the rules so that those found to have breached the ministerial code can apologise or temporarily lose pay rather than resign. Rayner accused the Prime Minister at the time of “watering down the rules to save his own skin”.

Following the amendment, an updated version of the code states that, if a breach has been found to have occurred, “where the Prime Minister retains his confidence in the minister, available sanctions include requiring some form of public apology, remedial action, or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.

Johnson has been investigated by the police and the civil service in relation to his breaching the Covid rules implemented during the pandemic. The Prime Minister is also due to be investigated by the Commons privileges committee over claims that he misled parliament over the ‘partygate’ row.

Johnson told parliament that all “the guidance was followed” when initially questioned about the partygate allegations. After a video was released showing No 10 staff laughing about a party in December 2020, Johnson said he had been “repeatedly assured” that “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Labour MP Catherine West asked Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions in December 2021 whether there was a party in Downing Street on November 13th 2020, to which the Prime Minister said: “No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed, and the rules were followed at all times.”

Photos were published in the Gray report appearing to show Johnson drinking with a group of people at an event in Downing Street on November 13th 2020. Covid rules at the time allowed two people from different households to meet indoors.

Conservative MPs are taking part in a confidence vote in the Prime Minister’s leadership this evening. It was announced this morning that 54 letters from Tory MPs (the threshold required to trigger a vote) were submitted to the chair of the 1922 committee. The result expected to be announced at 9pm.

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