Boris Johnson will skip Monday’s emergency parliamentary debate on sleaze, with Downing Street claiming he is due on a “long planed” trip to the north of England.
The House of Commons is staging a three-hour emergency debate after the dramatic collapse last week of the government’s attempt to overhaul the system amid bitter recriminations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on Johnson to apologise to the nation as renewed charges of Tory “sleaze” threatened to engulf his administration.
Ministers were accused of seeking to rewrite the rule book after Owen Paterson – a Conservative former Cabinet minister – was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials on behalf of two companies he worked for as a paid consultant.
But, earlier on Monday, a Cabinet minister suggested Johnson doesn’t need to attend the emergency debate – because he can follow proceedings on television from his office.
‘Too arrogant or too cowardly’
It comes as Starmer said that a no-show by the prime minister would demonstrate that he is “either too arrogant or too cowardly” to take responsibility for the Paterson scandal.
Asked whether Johnson will be attending the debate, international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told Sky News: “These sorts of debates are usually led and fronted by the ministers — I imagine, but I’m afraid I don’t know, that Jacob Rees-Mogg and the [Commons] leader’s team will be probably be covering.”
She added: “My opinion would be that no he shouldn’t be there.
“He will no doubt — as we all do — have the House of Commons on in his office as he’s dealing with many, many other issues that only a prime minister that can deal with.
“He will get a briefing of the key issues raised by colleagues from across the House later on, I believe that the Leader and other ministers will be well placed to take the despatch box this afternoon.”
And it has emerged that Johnson will indeed be skipping the debate, with Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay responding for the government instead.
Asked about the contentious issue of MPs taking second jobs – amid reports the Commons standards committee is considering banning politicians from holding consultancy roles – Trevelyan said: “This has been an issue that has kicked around for many years.
“My view is that most of who do for instance, those who doctors and nurses who continue to maintain their professional credentials and indeed serve in their original profession, I think the question of MPs holding jobs that involve lobbying perhaps should be looked at again.
“But I don’t think we should have the removal of the ability to maintain or have a second job because it brings a richness to our role as members of parliament as well the work we do day-to-day in our constituencies.”