Why Rishi Sunak’s sleaze row apology matters

11 November 2021

11:24 PM

11 November 2021

11:24 PM

Sorry may be the hardest word for Boris Johnson but that isn’t the case for certain members of his cabinet. After the Prime Minister refused once again in an appearance at the COP26 summit to apologise for backing Owen Paterson in a row over a proposed suspension for a lobbying breach, his ministers are finding their voice.

This morning Rishi Sunak broke his silence on the issue. In an interview with the BBC, Sunak was asked about the current Tory sleaze row and former cabinet minister Geoffrey Cox’s outside earnings working in a tax haven. He replied:

‘I’m not familiar with specific details of that case. It wouldn’t be right for me to comment on individuals. But we do have established independent parliamentary processes that govern all of these things and it’s absolutely right that those are followed to the letter. Reflecting on all of these things over recent days, for us as a government, we need to do better than we did last week and we know that.’

The line that sticks out is the Chancellor’s comment that the government needs ‘to do better than we did last week and we know that.’ This goes further in apologising for recent events than the Prime Minister has. But it also echoes comments made by the education secretary Nadhim Zahawi and cabinet office minister Steve Barclay, suggesting they regret the government’s initial handling of the row which saw No. 10 back a plan to spare Paterson and rewrite the standards rules for MPs.

The whole debacle has led to anger in the parliamentary party with Tory MPs believing it has cut through, judging by the mail they are receiving from constituents (which one describes as not as bad as Barnard Castle but ‘up there’) and the fresh scrutiny parliamentarians are now facing over their second jobs.

The fact that ministers, too, are adopting a different line to the Prime Minister on the issue shows that the current discomfort stretches to the payroll.

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