Boris Johnson absent as MPs address standards row

Boris Johnson was accused of dodging his responsibilities after he missed an emergency debate on a parliamentary ethics scandal currently engulfing British politics.

The prime minister was visiting a hospital in northeast England on Monday while MPs discussed how to move forward after the government last week threw its weight behind an attempt to block the suspension of Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who broke lobbying rules.

The Speaker of the Commons urged calm and told MPs to get their house in order, expressing his “regret” the Commons has not “been at its best” in its handling of the standards fiasco.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said it was “essential to sort out the mess we’re in” and asked MPs to “tone down the party political sniping and focus calmly on making sure the system is as effective as it can be.”

He did not come forward with a proposal for reforming the system, as some had expected, instead pointing out it was the responsibility of all MPs.

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain, who proposed the debate, opened by saying: “The actions of the government last week have tarnished this House’s reputation.”

She accused Johnson of heading to Northumberland to “escape” questions over why Downing Street became embroiled in Paterson’s case. A shout of “Run, Boris, Run!” came from the opposition benches.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson had “damaged democracy” with his actions and ought to be in the Commons to answer for them.

Speaking for the government, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay offered his regret for the way ministers responded to the standards watchdog’s recommendation of sanctions against Paterson.

Barclay declined to say if the government would make time for a new motion by the standards committee aimed at formally striking down last week’s vote. He said only that the government would “redouble its efforts” to engage and progress on a cross-party basis.

Paterson, a former Cabinet minister, announced his decision to resign last week after a controversial motion passed the Commons, pausing his suspension and setting up a committee to overhaul the broader standards system.

Labour and the SNP vowed not to serve on that committee, effectively killing it off.

The row has provoked questions over whether MPs should take on second jobs, but the government has not yet come forward with any fresh proposals for reforming the way standards are regulated.

Starmer called on the prime minister to ensure that Rob Roberts, an MP found to have sexually harassed staff, faces a recall petition, and to launch an investigation into government contracts awarded to health care firm Randox, one of the companies for which Paterson worked.

This article has been updated.



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