The Labour Party has called for an investigation into Kwasi Kwarteng’s comments to Sky News about the future of parliament’s standards watchdog.
Earlier on Thursday morning, the business secretary suggested that Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone should consider her position in the wake of the Owen Paterson row centred on MPs’ lobbying rules.
Now, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Lord Geidt, demanding an inquiry into Mr Kwarteng’s comments to Sky’s Kay Burley.
Ms Rayner claims the business secretary’s remarks may have breached the ministerial code.
Mr Kwarteng was asked whether Ms Stone should resign after Conservative MPs – with the encouragement of the prime minister – passed a motion on Wednesday in favour of ignoring Mr Paterson’s month-long Commons suspension, which had been suggested by the commissioner.
In reply, he said Ms Stone should “decide her position”.
Later on Wednesday, a few hours after the business secretary’s interview on Sky News, the government was forced into a U-turn over plans to examine Mr Paterson’s case and the standards system following severe backlash at Wednesday’s result.
Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: “I think it’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact that we’re reviewing the process, and we’re overturning and trying to reform this whole process.
“But it’s up to the commissioner to decide her position.”
Pushed on what he meant by “decide her position”, the business secretary said: “It’s up to her to do that.
“I mean, it’s up to anyone where they’ve made a judgment and people have sought to change that, to consider their position, that’s a natural thing, but I’m not saying she should resign.”
In her letter to Lord Geidt, Ms Rayner suggests that Mr Kwarteng’s comments could be seen as bullying Ms Stone.
“This type of behaviour has no place in our democracy,” her letter states.
“A Cabinet minister publicly threatening the position of a member of staff who serves the Houses of Parliament and upholds our democratic processes is a fundamental breach of the ministerial code, as well as being a rotten way for anybody to behave in any walk of life.”
The ministerial code says ministers must “treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect” and that relationships between civil servants and parliamentarians should be “proper and appropriate”.
Labour’s deputy leader Ms Rayner said the business secretary could be in breach of these sections.
Earlier on Thursday, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle reprimanded Mr Kwarteng for his comments.
“It’s not been a good period for the House, it’s been a very, very difficult time for all,” the Speaker told MPs.
“What I would say is I do appeal to members – whether they are secretary of state or whoever – please, staff members of this House shouldn’t be named, they’ve not got the right of reply or the ability to defend themselves.
“I am appalled that Sky News is more important.”
Downing Street would not say whether the PM thinks Ms Stone should resign from her position.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson told reporters: “That’s entirely a matter for her.”
Earlier this month, Mr Paterson, who has been an MP for 24 years, was found by parliament’s independent sleaze investigator to have broken lobbying rules during his £110,000-a-year private sector work.
The government was accused of “corruption” in seeking to overhaul parliamentary standards rules in an alleged effort to protect the MP after Conservative MPs passed a motion on Wednesday in favour of ignoring Mr Paterson’s month-long Commons suspension.
The PM was deeply unimpressed with Mr Paterson’s interview with Sky News on Wednesday evening, where he insisted he “wouldn’t hesitate” to act in the same way “tomorrow”, two sources have told Sky News.
In the face of a huge outcry, the government performed a U-turn in the row on Thursday less than 15 hours later with the promise of a new vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension.
Downing Street declined to comment.
But, just hours later, the 65-year-old announced his intention to resign from the House of Commons.
“I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire,” he said.
“The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me. My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned.
“I maintain that I am totally innocent of what I have been accused of.”
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