Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab admitted he “doesn’t have the facts” to substantiate Boris Johnson’s false claim in the Commons that Sir Keir Starmer was behind the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
The prime minister’s jibe about the Labour leader failing to prosecute Savile in his former role as director of public prosecutions has been completely discredited, sparking condemnation from MPs in all parties.
Mr Raab initially claimed Mr Johnson’s remark was simply “part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debates” – but when challenged to repeat the claim, admitted he could not.
The cabinet minister admitted on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can’t substantiate that ... I’m certainly not repeating it. I don’t have the facts to justify that.”
Senior Tory MP Julian Smith, former chief whip, attacked both the prime minister’s “smear” and Mr Raab’s claim they could be considered the normal “cut and thrust” of the Commons.
“The smear made against Keir Starmer relating to Jimmy Saville yesterday is wrong and cannot be defended. It should be withdrawn,” he tweeted.
“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.”
For Tory chair Baroness Warsi also attacked the “false and baseless smears” regarding Saville – saying they “cannot be defended”. She tweeted: “PM should withdraw his comments.”
Another senior Tory MP told The Independent that they were also “deeply disappointed and disgusted” that Mr Johnson repeated a slur against Starmer.
Responding on Tuesday, Sir Keir said Mr Johnson’s claim was “a ridiculous slur peddled by right wing trolls” – saying many Tory MPs had shared their dismay with him.
He told Sky News: “The disgust on the faces of Conservatives MPs that their prime minister was debasing himself by sinking so law was clear … many of them expressed that to me.”
In 2020, fact-checking charity Full Fact also looked into the claim that Sir Keir had stopped Savile being charged in 2009 – a claim which has also been perpetuated by far-right groups on social media.
Full Fact said that while 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”, he was not central to the decision.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief Crown prosecutor for the north west, responded to the PM’s false claim by branding it “a disgrace to parliament and office of prime minister”.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir said Mr Johnson had “taken the public for fools” and should resign over partygate scandal before the Metropolitan Police investigation concludes.
“The prime minister broke the rules, the prime minister lied about having broken the rules,” he told BBC Breakfast.
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