PMQs: Boris Johnson clashes with Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle amid sleaze row as he is labelled a 'coward' during at ill-tempered session
The Prime Minister insisted he wanted to find a cross-party approach out of the Westminster sleaze rows but became involved in tetchy Commons exchanges with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
MPs will vote later on drawing up new rules to curb their outside business interests, something which has increased tensions between Mr Johnson and Tory backbenchers.
The Prime Minister acknowledged he had made a “mistake” in his handling of the Owen Paterson case, where Conservative MPs were ordered to block the immediate suspension of the former cabinet minister over lobbying rule breaches.
He said he wanted a new approach based on “two key principles” – that MPs should focus on their job in Parliament and “no-one should exploit their position in order to advance the commercial interests of anybody else”.
But any attempt at forging an alliance across the House was undermined by Mr Johnson repeatedly questioning Sir Keir’s own outside earnings as a lawyer before he became party leader during angry exchanges in the Commons.
Sir Keir’s entry in the register of interests shows he has earned more than £25,000 for legal work during this Parliament, carried out before he became Labour leader.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson accused the Labour leader of “Mish-conduct” – a reference to talks Sir Keir had with legal giant Mishcon de Reya about a possible role in 2017.
The Speaker repeatedly ordered Mr Johnson to stop asking Sir Keir questions and said the exchanges had been “ill-tempered”, adding: “I think it shows the public that this House has not learnt from the other week.
“I need this House to gain respect but it starts by individuals showing respect for each other.”
Sir Keir said Mr Johnson’s refusal to fully apologise for his stance on the Paterson case showed he was “a coward, not a leader”.
The Labour leader said: “Weeks defending corruption. Yesterday a screeching last-minute U-turn to avoid defeat on Labour’s plan to ban MPs from dodgy second contracts.
Sir Keir later withdrew his allegation that the Prime Minister was a “coward”.
Mr Johnson will face the backbench 1922 Committee later on Wednesday in a bid to repair relations with his MPs, some of whom are furious at attempts to curb their outside earnings.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said there was “dissatisfaction” with the Prime Minister in the Tory ranks.
He told BBC’s Today programme that he had “no problem” with a ban on paid consultancy work but going further could “deter a whole class of people” from entering politics.
“I think we all need to take a long, deep breath on this and get it right,” he said.
“There are two real aspects to it. One is how we represent our constituents. And the second is what sort of type of people we want in Parliament.
“Because if we ban all second jobs, I think you are going to deter a whole class of people who represent the business opportunities in this country.”
Relations between Mr Johnson and his MPs have been strained by the Paterson furore and the subsequent focus on allegations of sleaze.
Sir Geoffrey said: “There is dissatisfaction on the backbenches and that is why the Prime Minister needs to make it very clear to members of Parliament what he expects from us.”
Labour’s proposal calls for a ban on “any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.
Crucially, it also includes provisions requiring the Commons Standards Committee to come forward with proposals to implement the ban and guaranteeing time on the floor of the House for MPs to debate and vote on them.
In contrast, the more vaguely worded Government amendment simply describes the consultancy ban as “the basis of a viable approach” and supports the work of the Standards Committee to update the MPs’ code of conduct.
Cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan suggested that MPs could reasonably work up to 20 hours a week on a second job.
The International Trade Secretary told Today: “Let’s say two shifts, that would be 16 hours a week. Are we saying 10 to 20 hours a week outside your work as an MP and a parliamentarian? If that’s what you chose to do as your choice, that’s fine.”
In a further sign of concern at standards in politics, a second Labour motion will attempt to force the Government to release minutes of meetings between ministers, officials and Randox.
Randox is the diagnostics company which employed Mr Paterson, the former cabinet minister who triggered the storm, as a consultant.
Mr Johnson told MPs he was “very happy to publish all the details of the Randox contracts, which have been investigated by the National Audit Office already”.
There is fresh scrutiny of the role of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) and the firms which provide support for them.
The Commons Committee on Standards launched an investigation into the groups in late 2020 and the BBC reported that an estimated £30 million has been poured into APPGs over the past five years.
The BBC investigation found that of that total, an estimated £6.4 million was donated by companies registered as lobbyists.
Tory MP Michael Fabricant said he welcomed the inquiry into the groups as “some are thought to receive large sums of money from foreign governments and companies”.
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