Labour seeks to maintain pressure on Johnson over ‘sleaze’ claims

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Boris Johnson’s Government faces further sleaze allegations as the fallout continues from the Owen Paterson saga.

Labour claimed there was a “cash for access culture” in the Tory party following reports that a series of donors who give the Tories £3 million and serve as the Conservative treasurer have been put forward for seats in the Lords.

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has written to the body that considers nominations for peerages to argue that former Cabinet Mr Paterson should not be granted a peerage if Downing Street recommends him for one.

Sir Keir, having been kept away from Westminster as the row unfolded due to coronavirus self-isolation, will seek to use an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday to increase pressure on the Prime Minister.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner branded Mr Johnson’s party “corrupt, dodgy, sleazy and on the take” in response to a Sunday Times story about Conservative treasurers getting seats in the Lords.

The newspaper said that in the past two decades, all 16 of the party’s main treasurers — apart from the most recent, who stood down two months ago having donated £3.8 million — have been offered a seat in the Lords.

The most controversial appointment was that of Lord Cruddas, who took his seat after Mr Johnson rejected the advice of the House of Lords Appointment Commission not to grant him a peerage.

An ex-party chairman told the newspaper: “The truth is the entire political establishment knows this happens and they do nothing about it… The most telling line is once you pay your £3 million, you get your peerage.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We do not believe that successful business people and philanthropists who contribute to political causes and parties should be disqualified from sitting in the legislature.”

There has been widespread speculation at Westminster that Mr Paterson, who quit as an MP on Thursday in the face of a suspension over “egregious” breaches of lobbying rules, could himself be in line for a peerage.

Owen Paterson suspension
Sir John Major (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In a letter to Lord Bew, chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, Sir Keir said if that happened it would “undermine confidence in the probity of Parliament”.

On Saturday, former prime minister Sir John Major said a peerage for Mr Paterson would be “rather extraordinary” as he launched a blistering attack on the “shameful” actions of Mr Johnson’s government, arguing that they were “perhaps politically corrupt”.

Mr Paterson quit after Mr Johnson abandoned a plan which would have seen his case – and the whole standards regime – reviewed by a Tory-led committee.

In a further sign of Tory anger about the handling of the Paterson row, former minister Caroline Nokes – a prominent critic of Mr Johnson – wrote in the Sunday Mirror: “If my postbag is anything to go by, the public think the PM’s decision to circle his wagons and attack Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone well and truly stinks. And it does.”

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