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After last night’s no-confidence vote, Conservative MPs now face another choice. Will they today back a set of independent recommendations to strengthen standards in public life or instead turn their backs on them to save the skin of a doomed prime minister?
Labour will be forcing a vote in the Commons today to clean up politics. Our motion follows Boris Johnson’s much-criticised rewriting of the ministerial code as he faces investigation over whether or not he deliberately misled parliament.
In the very week Sue Gray’s report was published, the prime minister airbrushed the words integrity, honesty, accountability and transparency from his own foreword to the code. His attempt to rig the rules, however, went further. The consensus among experts and watchdogs alike is that the net effect of the prime minister’s changes was to weaken standards and concentrate power in his own hands.
The committee on standards in public life was founded more than a quarter of a century ago by John Major in the wake of a trail of sleaze and led to the Nolan Principles. Just last November, it recommended a package of comprehensive changes to the code and the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, the business appointment rules, public appointments and lobbying transparency.
Back then the committee’s report was greeted with an indecent silence from this government. But when the prime minister finally came to update the code 10 days ago, he cherry-picked the recommendations he liked and discarded those he found inconvenient, undermining it entirely. He has faced rebuke from his own ethics adviser Lord Geidt and committee chair Lord Evans for his “low level of ambition”. His own anti-corruption tsar John Penrose walked out on him yesterday, accusing him of breaking the code of which he is both author and protector.
While the committee had recommended tiered sanctions, it had done so alongside greater independence for the adviser. As Lord Evans has since said, these recommendations were “inextricably linked” and part of a “mutually dependent package of reforms, designed to be taken together”. Instead, the prime minister has appointed himself as judge and jury in his own personal courtroom.
While the committee had recommended resignation as the appropriate sanction for all serious breaches, including deliberately misleading parliament, the rewritten code fails to specify what should happen to the minister who commits bribery, perpetrates sexual assault or bullies staff. The prime minister is quite literally making it up as he goes along.
There can be little doubt that Boris Johnson has downgraded, debased and demeaned standards in public life. Britain deserves better. It’s time to stop the rot.
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A Labour government will establish an Integrity and Ethics Commission, a single, independent body, removed from politicians. Our commission would have powers to launch investigations without ministerial approval, collect evidence and decide sanctions. Labour will restore damaged public trust in politics.
Backing the committee on standards in public life is an important first step MPs of all parties can take right now to show they are serious about reversing the damage n done by this destructive prime minister. This is why Labour is urging all MPs today to back the committee’s recommendations in full.
The prime minister has shown himself unfit for his office but all MPs have the opportunity to do the right thing today. If they fail to back efforts to clean up politics it is they who will have to look their constituents in the eye and explain why.
Will Tory MPs vote today to clean up politics?
Angela Rayner is deputy leader of the Labour Party and shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster