Raab grilled by hosts on Boris Johnson's mask absence
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The Prime Minister visited Hexham General Hospital in Northumberland on Monday leaving Steve Barclay, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to face a debate on standards in public life. It led to accusations the prime minister dodged the gathering of MPs.
Speaking from Hexham on Monday, Mr Johnson said: “What we’ve got to make sure is we take all this very, very seriously and we get it right. There’s a debate today.
“Unfortunately, I can’t be there because I have a longstanding engagement up here, but Labour want to focus on a particular case, a particular MP, who suffered a serious personal tragedy and who has now resigned.”
Former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson’s wife Rose was found dead in June last year.
Pictures published by MailOnline suggest Mr Johnson managed to get back to London before 5pm, in time to have attended the session which ran for three hours until just after 7pm.
Tom Hancock, a Lib Dem activist and candidate in Berwick at the 2019 election, reportedly spotted Mr Johnson and his entourage waiting for the same 1.30pm train that he was catching from Newcastle to London.
Mr Hancock said it arrived on time at King’s Cross at 4.41pm and he snapped the PM disembarking at the station, MailOnline reports.
A No10 spokesperson said the Prime Minister had pre-existing commitments in the North East to meet NHS staff about the importance of getting boosters and Mr Barclay attended the debate on behalf of the Government because he was the right person to do so.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab was asked seven times today why Mr Johnson had not apologised for the row and whether or not he was sorry.
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“Steve Barclay was the responsible minister in the Commons yesterday, I’m clear now, and the whole Government – all ministers are – that it was a mistake to conflate two issues, the individual case with the wider system and the due process that should be in place, and we regret that,” Mr Raab told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
Pressure has been mounting on the Prime Minister since the Conservatives tried to change parliamentary rules on disciplinary matters.
The changes would have allowed Mr Paterson, who was accused of illegal lobbying, to appeal a 30-day suspension from the Commons which had been recommended by Parliament’s watchdog standards committee.
Tory MPs had been whipped to vote for the changes, but the Government U-turned on its decision following widespread criticism.
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The debacle has led to wrangling over lobbying by MPs and parliamentarians taking second jobs. It has also fuelled speculation as to whether or not Mr Johnson declared financial interests over holidays as well as renovations to his Downing Street flat.
Mr Johnson’s absence from the debate, triggered by claims of Tory sleaze, enraged MPs with Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain claiming the government’s actions had tarnished the House’s reputation.
“We are tainted by allegations of sleaze,” she said.
Sir Keir Starmer told the House the Prime Minster had damaged himself, his party and democracy as a consequence of the vote.
Mr Barclay told the House the Government was listening carefully to the legitimate concerns raised since the vote and expressed regret at the mistake.
The Government plans to bring forward a motion which would unpick the amendment passed in the vote last week. It would have set up a committee to review standards procedures.
No10’s spokesperson said: “We recognise the strong views on this particular point and having listened to those again yesterday afternoon, we will table a motion tonight for next week to formalise the change of approach by unpicking the amendment.”
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