Boris Johnson is facing warnings from his own MPs that he urgently needs to rebuild public trust after admitting he “crashed the car into a ditch” in the row over standards at Westminster.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted ministers are committed to “fixing the problem” amid continuing frustration and anger among Tory MPs at the damage that has been inflicted over the past weeks.
At a private meeting of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee on Wednesday, Johnson took responsibility for the Government’s botched attempt to get Owen Paterson off the hook after he was found to have broken the rules on paid lobbying.
“On a clear day I crashed the car into a ditch. I will get the car out of the ditch,” he reportedly told the gathering.
Raab acknowledged the Government has a job of work to do to restore morale within the Conservative ranks after seeing the party engulfed by allegations of Tory “sleaze”.
Asked on Sky News about discontent within the party, he said there is always “one or other disgruntled individual” who is prepared to complain anonymously in the media.
Pressed on whether that means there is no general unrest, Raab added: “Not sure I’d put it in that idyllic way. There’s always debate amongst MPs, but the most important thing is we’re fixing the problem.”
On Wednesday, the Commons backed Johnson’s proposals to ban MPs from taking paid political consultancies and to limit the time they can spend doing second jobs.
However just 297 MPs – fewer than half the total – voted for the motion, with opposition parties abstaining.
Four Tory MPs even voted for a rival Labour motion which would have imposed a clear parliamentary timetable for implementing reform.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said there is a lack of urgency from the Government when it comes to dealing with the issue.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday morning: “The problem with the amendment from the Government which was passed yesterday is that there is no timetable.
“It wasn’t a binding vote and, as a result, I just fear it is going to be kicked further into the long grass rather than the fundamental reform that people want and need to see now to restore confidence in our parliamentary democracy.
“I think that public service and being an MP is something that I am proud of and I think most MPs are, but at the moment you don’t feel that proud. People look at MPs and just think it is just mired in sleaze.
“I think we need to sort this out quickly to restore the reputation of Parliament.
“It seems that Government just don’t have that sense of urgency about restoring people’s faith and trust in our parliamentary democracy.”
Former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said the Prime Minister had been poorly advised when it came to reforming the standards system.
He told ITV’s Peston: “It has been a very difficult two weeks and almost everyone involved would agree that it’s been handled poorly by the Government and it’s damaged the Government to an extent, and it’s damaged Parliament as well.
“We need to take action now to restore a degree of public trust in the standards in public life, and what you would expect from a Member of Parliament.”
Johnson’s appearance before the 1922 Committee was the culmination of weeks of pressure following the fiasco over the attempt to save Mr Paterson from suspension.
The former Cabinet minister had been found to have breached lobbying rules by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards but a Government-backed amendment attempted to save him from suspension and overhaul the whole standards process.
The Government U-turned on the idea after a backlash and Paterson resigned as an MP, but the saga kicked off a deep dive into standards in public life, with a focus on second jobs.
Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Johnson admitted the initial effort to shield Paterson had been an error.
“The intention genuinely was not to exonerate anybody, the intention was to see whether there was some way in which, on a cross-party basis, we could improve the system,” he said.
“In retrospect it was obviously, obviously mistaken to think we could conflate the two things and do I regret that decision? Yes I certainly do.”