Boris Johnson has said it was a “complete mistake” to try to defend Owen Paterson from punishment for repeated violations of lobbying rules, adding that he fully accepted that his former Conservative colleague had done wrong.
Sometimes in an awkward appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee, Johnson said his brief attempt to unilaterally replace the current parliamentary disciplinary system with a new, tory majority committee took place after anonymous “colleagues” told him it would have cross-party support. .
“I believed the idea would have the support of cross-parties,” Johnson told Labor MP Chris Bryant, who heads the Commons Standards Committee, who reminded the prime minister that this had not happened.
“This is how it looks,” Johnson replied.
When asked why he believed other parties would support the plan, Johnson replied, “It was presented to me by colleagues.”
Johnson admitted his most profound mistakes after bringing about two weeks of intense focus on paid lobbying and other secondary work for MPs in an attempt to rewrite the disciplinary rules. The plan was canceled a day later in the midst of a stir. Paterson’s personal circumstances, whose wife had killed himself last year.
“Yes, I think it was a complete mistake not to understand that a former member of North Shropshire made the whole debate impossible to break the rules.”
“I thought it was a very sad case, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that he violated the paid lobbying rules, as far as I could see from the report,” Johnson said.
“I think people wanted to find out if he had a fair right to appeal because of particularly tragic circumstances.”
Johnson backed away from the idea that Bryant, whose committee had heard the complaint, had challenged the idea from Paterson. He said: “When I gave the impression that the former member of North Shropshire had not had a fair trial, I could be mistaken, but it was certainly an impression that many people seemed to get.”
Johnson specifically stated that it was he who had instructed Kwasi Kwarteng to apologize to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone, who suggested in an interview that she should resign after the Commons vote led by the government had momentarily overturned her sentence on Paterson.
Johnson said the apology was “something that arose during the negotiations between me and Lord Geidt,” his ministerial adviser, and stressed that Geidt had not apologized.
Johnson also opposed demands from several members of the committee, including the chairman, Bernard Jenkin, a Tory MP, for Geidt to be given an independent right to begin an investigation into the ministry’s misconduct, rather than requiring the prime minister’s approval.
“I think it’s very unlikely that I would disagree with him under any circumstances,” Johnson said. Asked why he then did not give Geidt independent powers, Johnson replied, “I think the system we have is what it was originally, and it seems to work pretty well.”
Yvette Cooper, a Labor MP on the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, asked Johnson that he completely admitted Paterson had acted incorrectly and replied, “Yes, I will.”
He also admitted the mistake of being photographed without a mask while visiting a hospital in Northumberland last week when he told Cooper that this was short.
“As for not using the mask at Hexham Hospital, which you wrap into my general criminal litany, I can only say that it was actually barely 30 seconds when I wasn’t wearing the mask,” he said.
“I walked out of the room, I accidentally didn’t use it, and I put it on as soon as I realized I had made a mistake. I apologize for it, but most of the pictures from my hospital visit show that I was properly disguised throughout the visit.