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Boris Johnson’s senior aide quits in damning letter over PM's Jimmy Saville slur

·Breaking News Editor, Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
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One of Boris Johnson's most senior and loyal aide's has quit in protest at the prime minister's use of an unfounded Jimmy Savile smear against Sir Keir Starmer.

Munira Mirza resigned as the head of the No 10 policy unit after the prime minister falsely claimed the Labour leader had failed to prosecute notorious paedophile Savile.

In a letter to the Prime Minister reported by the Spectator, Ms Mirza wrote: “I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice.

“There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion. This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse.

“You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street for a Cabinet Meeting at the FCO with political advisor Munira Mirza (L), on December 15, 2020 in London, England. Ministers may review the Christmas coronavirus guidelines that allow three households to meet inside for a five-day period, after a spike in cases across London and the South East that sees the area moving into Tier 3 from 00:01 Wednesday. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Munira Mirza has been one of Johnson's closest aides. (Getty)

Mirza has worked with Johnson since he was London mayor and her departure will pile more pressure on the PM, whose ill-judged comments now threaten to spiral out of control at a time when he is trying to appease significant numbers of his own MPs following the damning Sue Gray report in lockdown parties.

Eleven Tory MPs have publicly submitted letters of no-confidence in the PM, though the total number is likely to be more. A leadership challenge will automatically be triggered if 54 MPs demand Johnson steps down.

Savile row begins

During a bruising Commons session on Monday, Johnson accused Starmer of failing to prosecute Savile while the Labour leader was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), when in fact he had not been the reviewing lawyer for the case.

On Tuesday a spokesperson for the PM later said he stood by what he said.

But on Thursday Johnson said he understood why people got "hot under the collar" about the claim.

He added: "I'm talking not about the leader of the opposition's personal record when he was when he was DPP and I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions."

Johnson made the false claim, which it is believed is also shared online by far-right conspiracy theorists, following the release of part of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Partygate allegations at Downing Street.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. Picture date: Wednesday February 2, 2022.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. Picture date: Wednesday February 2, 2022.
File photo dated 25/10/97 of Jimmy Savile, as a long-awaited report into sexual abuse by the disgraced BBC broadcaster is to be published later.
File photo dated 25/10/97 of Jimmy Savile, as a long-awaited report into sexual abuse by the disgraced BBC broadcaster is to be published later.

What did Boris Say?

"The report does absolutely nothing to substantiate the tissue of nonsense that he has said. Absolute nonsense.

“Instead this leader of the opposition, a former director of public prosecution – who used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can see – he chose to use this moment to continually pre-judge a police inquiry.

“He has reached his conclusions about it. I am not going to reach any conclusions and he would be entirely wrong to do so."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer responds to a statement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to MPs in the House of Commons on the Sue Gray report. Picture date: Monday January 31, 2022.
During a bruising Commons session on Monday, Johnson accused Starmer of failing to prosecute Savile while the Labour leader was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) (PA)

The claim - which the prime minister is able to make under the rules of parliamentary privilege - sparked an immediate backlash.

He doubled down on his comments during PMQs on Wednesday, in a move which is said to have horrified his MPs and reportedly led to one calling him a "Pound Shop Trump".

SNP leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon agreed with them, and branded Johnson "Trumpian" over the comments.

Victims have also came forward to slam the claims made by the PM.

One of Savile's victims, identified as Miss A, told LBC: "To have the PM say this, I was furious.

"It was like he was using it as a flippant thing for other people's purposes.

"It triggered all the flashbacks, the memories.

"I can't begin to tell you how upset I was. It was so unnecessary."Victims have also come forward to slam the claims made by the PM.

One of Savile's victims, identified as Miss A, told LBC: "To have the PM say this, I was furious.

"It was like he was using it as a flippant thing for other people's purposes.

"It triggered all the flashbacks, the memories.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the media during a visit to Blackpool Transport Depot. Picture date: Thursday February 3, 2022.
The claim sparked an immediate backlash and comes at a time when Johnson is trying to appease his own MPs to save his political skin. (PA)

"I can't begin to tell you how upset I was. It was so unnecessary."

Senior Conservatives have also rebuked Johnson.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood cited the Savile comments on Wednesday as he called on Johnson to resign and revealed he had written a letter of no-confidence on his leader.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: “Who advised the Prime Minister to say this? We’re better than this, we must seek to improve our standards and rise above where we are today.”

Tory former chief whip Julian Smith said: “The smear made against Keir Starmer relating to Jimmy Savile yesterday is wrong and cannot be defended. It should be withdrawn.

“False and baseless personal slurs are dangerous, corrode trust and can’t just be accepted as part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.”

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