Boris Johnson has admitted that Owen Paterson broke lobbying rules and said it was a mistake to attempt to reform the MPs’ standards watchdog to prevent his suspension.
The Prime Minister was pressed on the issue as he was questioned by MPs on Westminster’s Liaison Committee on Wednesday.
Paterson resigned as a Conservative MP after the Government U-turned on its bid to reform the watchdog, after he was found to have been paid more than £100,000 a year to lobby for two companies.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper had asked the Prime Minister to clarify whether he believes that Owen Paterson broke the rules.
“Yes. At least, that seems to me… yes, I do,” Johnson responded.
“And as I said at the beginning of PMQs two weeks ago, we did not seek to in any way minimise the importance of that.”
He continued: “Frankly, I think it is extraordinary that colleagues sometimes do behave in this way.
“And it is quite right that the commissioner is able to investigate and to hold them to account.
“What I’ve always sought to do, and I think the committee will agree, I’ve accepted that it was a mistake and that it was my mistake.
“All we wanted to do was to see whether in view of the particular and frankly tragic circumstances of the case there was any scope for cross-party agreement on an appeals process.
“That was all we were trying to do.”
Cooper pressed the Prime Minister on whether he should have been clear about that three weeks ago.
Johnson said: “Yes, in retrospect, it would… it might have helped a bit if I’d said that I believe that Owen had broken the rules, as far as I could see.”
However, Cooper replied: “Every time you say ‘as far as I could see’, ‘well it seems to me’, and you try and qualify it, you are undermining an independent system that we need to work.
“We need you to have some integrity, we need you to be able to uphold the standards.”
Responding, Johnson told MPs: “Let me repeat, it was clear to me that he’d broken the rules, that he’d fallen foul of the rules that we have in Parliament.”
He added: “I think it was a total mistake not to see that Owen’s breach of the rules made any discussion about anything else impossible.
“And I totally accept that.”