Boris Johnson has been accused of “running scared” after deciding to stay away from an emergency debate in the House of Commons on rules for MPs following the row with Owen Paterson, until last week the MP for North Shropshire.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister was unable to return to Westminster in time after a long-planned visit to an NHS hospital in Northumberland.
Instead, Cabinet Minister Stephen Barclay will open the debate for the government amid the lingering anger of some Tory MPs at the way the issue has been handled by ministers.
Sir Keir Starmer, who will lead the Labor Party, said the Prime Minister chose to go into hiding rather than tackle the mess he created.
“Boris Johnson does not have the decency to defend himself or apologize for his actions. Rather than repair the damage he has caused, the Prime Minister is afraid,” he said.
âWhen asked to lead, he chose to go into hiding. Its concern, as always, is self-preservation, not the national interest. “
The Liberal Democrats, who provided the three-hour emergency debate, said Mr Johnson’s absence from the House of Commons represented a “shocking failure of leadership”.
Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain has accused the Prime Minister of trying to undermine the rules to avoid scrutiny of his own conduct, including during the lavish renovation of his Downing Street apartment.
“A fish rots from head to toe, and it’s the same with the corrupt and shady government of Boris Johnson,” she said.
âFrom redecorating his apartment to vacation allegedly paid for by Conservative Party donors, the Prime Minister has serious questions to answer about his own integrity and allegations that he violated parliamentary standards.
“It looks like Boris Johnson was trying to use Owen Paterson’s case to get out of the woods, which would be a new low even by his standards.”
Speaking to reporters during his visit to Hexham General Hospital, Mr Johnson declined to be drawn to the chaotic events of the past week.
However, he praised the steps taken by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to forge an inter-party consensus on reforming the functioning of the standards system.
A spokeswoman for Sir Lindsay said he would address MPs at the start of the debate.
Mr Johnson said: “I think it is very important that we get it right. We are going to hold MPs to account. MPs should not break the rules.
“If there is anything positive to come out of all of this it is that, as far as I know, the President is determined to try to move us all forward with a system in which we have a multi-stakeholder approach, this that we were trying to achieve last week.
Many Tories are still angry after being ordered last week to vote for a new committee to examine a new appeals system for MPs convicted of breaking the rules, only for the government to do backtracking after opposition parties refused to cooperate.
In the aftermath of the dispute, Mr Paterson, the former minister at the center of the conflict, announced he was stepping down as MP for North Shropshire, accusing the “cruel world of politics”.
This followed a recommendation from the Commons Standards Committee that he should be suspended from Parliament for six weeks after committing a âflagrantâ violation of the age-old ban on paid lobbying by MPs.
Mr Paterson had hoped to challenge the finding through a new appeal system, but MPs on all sides of the House were angry at how ministers had sought to confuse his case with broader reform of the system.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said MPs must now move forward after a “very dark week for Parliament”.
“I don’t want another week like this, we have to move on,” he told Sky News.
“This House matters to me, Members of Parliament matter to me, the people who work here matter to me, and what I don’t want is another dark week like last week.”
“I want to make sure the public has confidence in parliamentarians and the House of Commons, and today’s debate will be painful, but the only thing is they have to clean up the House to move forward . “