UK: A consultant affair reaches Prime Minister Johnson – Politics


Politicians like to make headlines, but not Sir Lindsay Hoyle. He is the speaker of the House of Commons, his word is law, which is why he takes great care to express himself objectively and not to a point. So it is remarkable when he says to the TV cameras: “Last week was a very dark week for Parliament. I never want another week like this.”

Last week began what is now threatening to develop into the biggest problem in Boris Johnson’s tenure. “Sleaze” is the word most frequently used in the UK media today to refer to the House of Commons. It means “corruption”, but it can also be translated as “dirt”.

It started with the Standards Committee, the bipartisan control committee of the House of Commons, telling a report after investigating allegations against Tory MP Owen Paterson. It was about the question of whether the 65-year-old Paterson, who has been a member of parliament for 24 years and, among other things, has been minister of the environment at times, has broken the rules. The answer for the committee is clear: yes. Paterson denies all allegations.

Paterson has worked for the medical company Randox since 2015 and as a consultant for the meat distributor Lynn’s Country Foods since 2016. He received a total of around 100,000 pounds (117,000 euros) a year, in addition to his parliamentary salary of 82,000 pounds (96,000 euros). His behavior shows a clear and inadmissible conflict of interest, it says in the report. In March 2020, Randox won a £ 133 million government contract to make tests, which raises further questions. In addition, Paterson has repeatedly used his MP’s office for business meetings. The committee proposed that Paterson be suspended for 30 days. A vote was planned for last Wednesday.

Even an ex-prime minister speaks of a “disgrace”

On Wednesday morning, however, it became known that Prime Minister Johnson and his followers had been trying for days to get a vote on the revision of the committee before a possible decision on the proposal. The investigation, which began at the end of 2019, was not detailed and fair enough, says Johnson. The final report is 173 pages long, the written statements of 17 witnesses were taken into account.

For years there have been considerations to reform the committee, for example to fill it with neutral people from outside the lower house – but just at the moment when a long-serving and loyal Tory MP is badly damaged by a report by the committee to reorganize the committee itself, that is a considerable timing. Johnson’s vote narrowly went through, so the suspension vote was withdrawn.

The public criticism was immediately massive, and even the more loyal newspapers passed devastating judgments. It was said that Johnson’s side threatened MPs with consequences if they did not vote for his proposal. On Thursday, the government announced that the previous day’s vote would be canceled and that a suspension of Paterson would be decided instead. Shortly thereafter, Paterson resigned. He was “very sad,” said Johnson, and Paterson was “my friend and colleague for decades.”

Since then, Johnson has not missed an opportunity to point out that Paterson’s wife committed suicide in the past year – when the investigation was already ongoing. The opposition is hard-hearted, that’s Johnson’s message, but it doesn’t get caught. Instead, criticism quickly moved away from Paterson to Johnson and his administration. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major said over the weekend it was “a shame” the behavior of the government. The words “politically corrupt” were used. Of the Guardian published a list of 30 MPs and their lucrative part-time jobs. After this research, some of them work for six different clients.

“Run, Boris, run!”

On Monday, the House of Commons convened a debate on all of this, with more than three hours of discussion. The lower house was almost full, while the prime minister’s seat remained vacant. Johnson preferred to visit a hospital rather than face the debate, which is why he was called “cowardly” and “irresponsible” by the opposition. It was significant that he was running away at this very important moment, said a member of the Liberal Democrats when someone shouted from the opposition benches in the hall: “Run, Boris, run!”

The Standards Committee is likely to be reorganized soon – but that is not the end of the story for Boris Johnson. On Tuesday published the Times Amazing things about Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox: The former public prosecutor received more than a million pounds for legal advisory activities last year. The fact that all meetings and votes were held online during the lockdown, he used to long stays with his client in the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, which raised the question of how he got there from his job as MP for the district Meet Torridge and West Devon.

Downing Street reprimanded Cox for this on Tuesday. MEPs must be available to their voters on site, it said in a statement. The Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also said: Secondary activities like these are “legitimate as long as everything is properly declared”.


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