Johnson rebuked by Speaker over Savile jibe at Labour leader

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he was ‘far from satisfied’ that Boris Johnson’s comments were appropriate.

Jimmy Savile (PA)
Jimmy Savile (PA)

Boris Johnson has been rebuked by the Commons Speaker over his discredited claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile

The Prime Minister faced calls from a Tory former chief whip to withdraw the “baseless personal slur”, while Sir Keir said it was Mr Johnson who was “debasing himself by going so low”.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he was “far from satisfied that the comments in question were appropriate”.

But Downing Street said Mr Johnson stood by his comments.

While they may not have been disorderly, I am far from satisfied that the comments in question were appropriate on this occasion

Sir Lindsay Hoyle

Mr Johnson made the comments on Monday when he lashed out at the Labour leader, a former director of public prosecutions, during Commons clashes about the report on alleged lockdown-busting parties in No 10.

As he battled to defend himself from the partygate row, Mr Johnson claimed Sir Keir “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.

Questioned about the comments on Tuesday, Sir Lindsay said “procedurally nothing disorderly occurred but such allegations should not be made lightly”.

He added: “While they may not have been disorderly, I am far from satisfied that the comments in question were appropriate on this occasion.

“I want to see more compassionate, reasonable politics in this House and the sort of comment can only inflame opinions and generate disregard for this House.

“I’ve got to say I want a nicer Parliament, the only way we can get a nicer Parliament is being more honourable in the debates we have.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted the comments were part of the “cut and thrust” of Commons debates.

But he said he was “certainly not repeating it” during a broadcast interview, without the protection of parliamentary privilege.

Sir Keir was director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013, but is not thought to have been involved in decisions relating to sexual offence allegations against disgraced entertainer Savile.

Tory former chief whip Julian Smith said: “The smear made against Keir Starmer relating to Jimmy Savile yesterday is wrong and cannot be defended. It should be withdrawn.

“False and baseless personal slurs are dangerous, corrode trust and can’t just be accepted as part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.”

Sir Keir told Sky News: “It is a ridiculous slur peddled by right-wing trolls… this is where I saw the faces of the Conservative MPs, the disgust on their faces that their Prime Minister was debasing himself by sinking so low in the Chamber was clear.

“They knew that he was going so low with that slur, with that lie – he had been advised not to do it because it’s obviously not true, but he does it because he doesn’t understand what honesty and integrity means.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson “stands by what he said in the House”.

The spokesman declined to repeat the Prime Minister’s assertion, arguing that it would clash with the principle of civil service impartiality.

“As a civil servant it wouldn’t be right for me to repeat something which relates to a political aspect of the Prime Minister’s work,” the spokesman said.

Lawyer Richard Scorer, who represented many of Savile’s victims, called on Mr Johnson to withdraw his remarks.

Mr Scorer, head of abuse and public inquiries at law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “Victims of Savile I represented and have spoken with today are all disgusted by Boris Johnson’s comments.

“They’ve told me they want him to withdraw them and apologise. I urge Johnson to do that right away.

“Weaponising their suffering to get out of a political hole is disgraceful.”

He added: “As one of the lawyers who represented many of Savile’s victims, I can confirm that these allegations against Sir Keir Starmer are completely unfounded and unjustified.”

Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, wrote on Twitter: “Keir Starmer had nothing to do with the decisions taken. On the contrary, He supported me in bringing 100s of child sex abusers to justice.”

In 2020, fact checking charity Full Fact looked into the claim that Sir Keir had stopped Savile being charged in 2009.

Full Fact said Sir Keir was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when the decision not to prosecute Savile was made on the grounds of “insufficient evidence”, adding: “The allegations against Savile were dealt with by local police and a reviewing lawyer for the CPS.

“A later investigation criticised the actions of both the CPS and the police in their handling of the situation.

“It did not suggest that Mr Starmer was personally involved in the decisions made.”

Savile died in 2011 aged 84 having never been brought to justice for his crimes.

He is now believed to be one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.

A 2016 report into his abuse found staff at the BBC missed numerous opportunities to stop him.

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