Former prime minister Sir John Major has launched an extraordinary broadside at Boris Johnson’s government over the Owen Paterson row.
The Conservative former premier said the conduct was “shameful” and had trashed the reputation of Parliament.
The Prime Minister was forced to U-turn over a plan to prevent Paterson facing a 30-day Commons suspension for a serious breach of lobbying rules.
Paterson subsequently quit as an MP after the government abandoned an attempt to set up a Tory-dominated committee to re-examine his case and the wider Commons standards regime.
Sir John said: “I think the way the government handled that was shameful, wrong and unworthy of this or indeed any government. It also had the effect of trashing the reputation of Parliament.”
The former prime minister, whose opposition to Brexit has seen him at odds with Mr Johnson’s government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today the action of the current administration “damaging at home and to our reputation overseas”.
Sir John, whose own government in the 1990s was undermined by sleaze rows, said: “When that happened I set up the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life to stop it, which has been a huge success.
“The striking difference is this: in the 1990s I set up a committee to tackle this sort of behaviour.
“Over the last few days we have seen today’s government trying to defend this sort of behaviour.
“Sleaze is unacceptable, was unacceptable when I was there, and I suffered a great deal of pain and anguish over it.
“It’s unacceptable today, and it needs to be stopped.”
He added: “This government has done a number of things that have concerned me deeply: they have broken the law, the illegal prorogation of parliament. They have broken treaties, I have in mind the Northern Ireland Protocol. They have broken their word on many occasions.
“Whenever they run up against difficulties with anybody, whether it is the Supreme Court, the Electoral Commission, the BBC, they react not with an understanding, not with trying to placate what has gone wrong, but actually in rather a hostile fashion.”