MPs are set to vote on whether to scrap the controversial standards reforms that sparked Westminster’s sleaze row.
A motion to rescind the so-called Leadsom amendment, which looked to establish a review of the MPs standards investigation process and delay Owen Paterson’s suspension for breaking lobbying rules, has been tabled by Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg for Monday.
It comes as the prime minister admitted for the first time that he could have handled the Paterson affair “better”.
Johnson, pressed on what he would say to people who thought he had “got it wrong” on the standards changes, told a Downing Street press briefing on Sunday: “Of course, I think things could certainly have been handled better, let me put it that way, by me.”
The Conservative leader has seen his party and his own personal ratings plummet in opinion polls since the government’s controversial bid to tear up the Commons standards system, with a host of surveys suggesting the Tories have lost their lead over Labour since the sleaze row broke out.
The attempt to reform the system, and subsequent U-turn less than 24 hours later, has intensified the spotlight on MPs’ second jobs and their expenses claims, leading to a flurry of negative headlines for the Tories.
The Leadsom amendment came in response to Paterson, a former environment secretary who has since quit Parliament, being handed a 30-day suspension after he was found to have lobbied for two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.
Before ministers altered course, the plan formulated by Andrea Leadsom, a former Commons leader, had been for a new cross-party committee to overhaul the whole standards process, but also review Paterson’s case specifically.
But the plan fell apart when opposition parties made clear they would not support the reforms.
Since the fallout caused by the vote, which has divided Tory backbenchers, the government has backed a motion set out by senior Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Select Committee on Standards.
Bryant’s motion, if approved by MPs, would reverse the amendment that Conservatives were controversially whipped to vote for on November 3.
Rescinding the appointment
The order paper states that Monday’s motion “rescinds … the appointment of a new select committee”, which had been due to be chaired by former culture secretary John Whittingdale.
The motion will also accept the Standards Committee’s report recommending that former cabinet minister Paterson be suspended, while noting that he is no longer an MP.
The prime minister, during Sunday’s press briefing, gave his backing to the Commons standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone, calling for her to be “allowed” to do her job.
His comments come after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Stone should consider her position after the way she handled the investigation into former North Shropshire MP Paterson.
Johnson said he had confidence in the standards tsar, telling reporters: “I think the commissioner has a job to do and a huge amount of work to do, and she needs to get on and be allowed to do it.
“Whether the system is capable of improvement or not is a matter for the Standards Committee and for the House.”
Meanwhile, Labour is demanding an investigation after claims in The Sunday Times that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, a keen pilot, is using a lobbying body to protect airfields from development.
Shapps – who is said to own a £100,000 aeroplane – “set-up and diverted public money” to a new team within the Civil Aviation Authority which is designed to lobby against planning developments, including housing projects, that infringe on airstrips, according to the reports.
Angela Rayner accused Shapps of “not only a breach of the Ministerial Code but a complete and total breach of any standards of integrity and decency in public office”.
In a statement, Rayner highlighted five aspects of the code she says Shapps has broken, including that ministers must “ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”, and must also “not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code”.
“What we have here is a Cabinet Minister seemingly using his position and taxpayers’ money to run a secret lobbying operation from within his own department to further his own personal hobbies and interests, not the public interest,” Rayner said.
“On a daily basis the actions of Boris Johnson’s ministers bring shame on our democracy and corrode public trust in our politics and yet again the prime minister is failing to take action to stamp out the corruption that has engulfed his government.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) hit back at the claims, saying the Airfield Advisory Team was not a lobbying body and instead provided “support to general aviation on a range of matters affecting their operations”.