Boris Johnson’s policy chief quits in protest over ‘scurrilous’ Savile smear against Keir Starmer

Munira Mirza – hailed by prime minister as one of his biggest inspirations – condemns ‘inappropriate and partisan’ attack

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 03 February 2022 17:16
Comments
Boris Johnson backs down on smear linking Starmer to Savile, but does not apologise

Boris Johnson’s policy chief has quit because of his attempted smear of Keir Starmer over Jimmy Savile’s crimes, in a devastating blow to his authority.

Munira Mirza condemned “an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse”, in a resignation letter.

I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice,” she has written, in a letter revealed by The Spectator.

“There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion. This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics.”

Meanwhile, chancellor Rishi Sunak distanced himself from Johnson’s remark, telling a press conference in London that he would not have accused Sir Keir of failing to prosecute Savile, as the prime minister did in the House of Commons on Monday.

“Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it, and I’m glad the prime minister clarified what he meant,” said the chancellor, who is viewed as most likely to inherit the keys of 10 Downing Street if Mr Johnson is toppled.

But he insisted he continues to back the PM, saying: “He has my support and I’m glad that he is doing what he is doing.”

Asked about Ms Mirza’s departure, Mr Sunak said: “She was a valued colleague and I very much enjoyed working with her and I am very sorry to see her leave government.

The blow is enormous because Mr Johnson once hailed Ms Mirza as one of the five women who have most inspired him, after 14 years of service.

The resignation was quickly described as “an unmistakeable signal the bunker is collapsing & this PM is finished”, by Dominic Cummings, in a tweet.

Nikki da Costa, a former Downing Street director of legislative affairs, said: “Munira was the very best of No10 – this is a huge loss.”

The resignation also derails the so-called “dead cat strategy”, which has often seen Mr Johnson make outrageous statements to distract public attention from criticism of him.

And it is likely to trigger further letters demanding a no-confidence vote from Tory MPs angry at the smear, revealing further turmoil in an already-chaotic No 10 – still reeling from the Partygate scandal.

The bombshell comes despite the prime minister being forced to finally retract his false claim that Sir Keir “failed to prosecute” Savile, while director of public prosecutions.

In her letter, the former close aide reveals she had urged Mr Johnson to go further – by apologising for the slur – something he failed to do, on a visit to Blackpool.

Ms Mirza has written: “You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.”

‘You are a better man than many of your detractors will ever understand which is why it is so desperately sad that you let yourself down by making a scurrilous accusation against the leader of the Opposition.”

Mr Johnson had rebuffed growing pressure from Tory MPs to retract the allegations, doubling down in the Commons – even after Sir Keir accused him of “parroting fascists”.

The claim is false because, although Sir Keir was the head of the Crown Prosecution Service at the time of Savile’s crimes, he was not the reviewing lawyer for the case.

Ms Mirza has been as one of Mr Johnson’s most loyal aides, having worked with him since his days as Mayor of London and surviving the infighting in No 10 in recent years.

Even in her resignation letter, she praises him as “a man of extraordinary abilities with a unique talent for connecting with people”, The Spectator said.

Downing Street announced the appointment of the MP Andrew Griffith as her replacement, saying: “We are very sorry Munira has left No 10 and are grateful for her service and contribution to government.”

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