Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has launched an extraordinary broadside in Boris Johnson’s government on the Owen Paterson Row.
The former Conservative prime minister said the conduct was “disgraceful” and had undermined Parliament’s reputation.
And he suggested the Johnson administration was “politically corrupt” for its treatment of the House of Commons.
The prime minister was forced to back down on a plan to prevent Mr Paterson from being sentenced to a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for a serious violation of lobbying rules.
Mr. Paterson then resigned as an MP after the government abandoned its attempt to create a Conservative-dominated committee to reconsider his case and the larger Commons standards regime.
Sir John said: âI think the way the government handled this was shameful, bad and unworthy of this government or any government. It has also had the effect of damaging the reputation of Parliament. “
The former Prime Minister, whose Brexit opposition put him at odds with Mr Johnson’s government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today that the current administration’s action was “harmful to us and to our reputation abroad “.
Sir John, whose own government in the 1990s was plagued by sordid bickering, said: ‘When this happened I set up the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life to stop it. , which was a huge success.
âThe striking difference is this: In the 1990s, I set up a committee to combat this kind of behavior.
âOver the past few days we have seen the government of today trying to defend this kind of behavior.
âSleaze is unacceptable, was unacceptable when I was there, and I suffered a lot of pain and anguish because of it.
âIt is unacceptable today and it must be stopped. “
He suggested there was an arrogance at the heart of Mr Johnson’s administration.
“There is a general puff of ‘we are the masters now’ about their behavior.”
He added: “Whenever they run into difficulties with anyone – be it the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, the BBC, they don’t react with understanding, not by trying to appease this. which is wrong, but in fact in a rather hostile way. fashion. “
The government has an active majority of around 80 and Sir John has suggested that this has allowed Mr Johnson to treat Parliament “with contempt”.
Important announcements were made to sections of the media before MPs, he said, and ministers had behaved “badly” in “ways that may be politically corrupt”.
Mr. Paterson was found guilty of a “flagrant” violation of lobbying rules by the Commons Standards Committee following an investigation by Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone.
But as MPs prepared to vote on a 30-day suspension, which could have triggered the recall process for a by-election, the government backed an amendment to appoint a new committee to review the case and the disciplinary system. .
When that plan was scrapped by the government, Mr Paterson resigned as an MP, but Downing Street refused to rule out the possibility of recommending him for a peerage.
Sir John said it would be “rather extraordinary” and expressed doubts about its approval.
The debacle sparked anger among Tory MPs who were whipped to vote for the controversial plan, only to see it scrapped.
Chief Whip Mark Spencer has been the target of largely anonymous briefings blaming him for the fiasco, although Downing Street has publicly backed him.
Tory backbench MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told Today that ultimately the Prime Minister was responsible for the mistakes he made in handling the situation.
“The chief whip was just doing his job, he would pull together the currents of opinion, then he would report it to No 10 who decided what to do and what decisions were made,” said Sir Geoffrey.
âThe Prime Minister is in charge of the party, in charge of the Government, finally he must take his responsibilities. “
Sir John said Mr Spencer and Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg had a duty to the Prime Minister to inform him of Parliament’s state of mind.
“Obviously, either they told him the mood was bad and he dismissed their concerns, which may have happened, or they weren’t in touch with Parliament.”
Meanwhile, Tammy Banks, one of the non-MPs who sits on the Standards Committee, has championed the process and the work of Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had suggested his future was uncertain and Mr. Paterson’s allies publicly criticized his handling of the affair.
Tammy Banks, one of the non-MPs to serve on the Standards Committee, said she was “appalled” by the “defamatory” attacks against Ms Stone.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Week In Westminster: “She works hard, she does her best and most of all, she is fair.”
Responding to Sir John’s comments, Deputy Liberal Democrat Leader Daisy Cooper said: “For a former Tory PM to describe this government as politically corrupt is frankly astonishing and a damning accusation by the Tories under Boris Johnson.”
A government spokesperson said: âAs the Prime Minister said, paid lobbying and paid advocacy by ministers and MPs is absolutely bogus.
“All elected officials must abide by the rules of conduct, as the public is entitled to expect.”