Downing Street denies targeting sleaze watchdog over Boris Johnson’s record

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Moves to overhaul the standards procedure for MPs were not a “pre-emptive strike” to protect Boris Johnson’s own interests, No 10 has said.

The Prime Minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings alleged on Twitter that proposals to set up a new committee to review standards – which were approved by MPs before being scrapped on Thursday – had been designed to target Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, ahead of any investigations into allegations made against the Prime Minister.

Downing Street denied this was the case but earlier, before the measures were binned, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had said Ms Stone should consider her position.

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Kwarteng said: “I think it’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact that we’re reviewing the process, and we’re overturning and trying to reform this whole process, but it’s up to the commissioner to decide her position.”

Pushed on what he meant by “decide her position”, Mr Kwarteng said: “It’s up to her to do that.

“I mean, it’s up to anyone where they’ve made a judgment and people have sought to change that, to consider their position, that’s a natural thing, but I’m not saying she should resign.”

Cop26 – Glasgow
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Stone’s office had signalled she intended to serve her full five-year term up to December 2022.

Shadow leader of the Commons Thangam Debbonaire accused the Government of “trying to bully the Standards Commissioner out of her job”.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Ms Stone’s role was “entirely a matter for her”.

He said: “The Prime Minister’s focus is on, as he set out yesterday, securing a proper appeal for this process, as there are other walks of life.”

Asked if the saga had been a pre-emptive strike, he said: “No.”

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Mr Johnson has been admonished by the commissioner on four occasions, most recently over a £15,000 holiday to the island of Mustique between December 26 2019 and January 5 2020, but this was later overturned by the Committee on Standards.

In 2019, Mr Johnson apologised for the late registration of a one-fifth share of a rental property in Somerset – worth more than £100,000 – after a complaint was made to Ms Stone.

In 2018 he was found to have failed to declare more than £52,000 in income from book royalty payments in time.

Under a previous commissioner, he also had a complaint upheld in 2008, while MP for Henley, over undeclared shares in a firm which made history documentaries which he presented.

Mr Johnson said at the time the shares were worth just £33 and he had not realised they had any pecuniary value.

Margaret Hodge
Margaret Hodge (Yui Mok/PA)

In April this year, Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge reported Mr Johnson to Ms Stone over the initial redecoration costs of his Downing Street flat, but it has not yet been announced whether the commissioner will be looking into the allegations.

Ms Stone is the sixth commissioner since the role was established in 1995.

She started in 2018 and previously worked as the commissioner for victims and survivors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Ms Stone, who was awarded an OBE in 2007, was also the chief legal ombudsman of England and Wales, has worked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and spent 11 years as chief executive of the charity Voice UK.

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