Jacob Rees-Mogg says he was ‘wrong’ to encourage Boris Johnson on Owen Paterson vote

‘I encouraged the prime minister to go down this route and I was wrong, I made a mistake’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 November 2021 21:47

Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted he was “wrong” to encourage Boris Johnson to back a failed attempt to block Owen Paterson’s suspension by creating a Tory-dominated committee to review standards.

In a move that provoked outrage earlier this month, the prime minister whipped his MPs to vote to rewrite sleaze rules – only to U-turn less than 24 hours later.

Reflecting on the now-abandoned amendment, which was labelled as government “corruption” by opposition parties at Westminster, the Commons leader said the electorate viewed the move as “self-serving”.

His remarks come as MPs prepare to debate the issue once again on Tuesday after the government’s attempt to draw a line under the scandal failed on Monday evening when a veteran Conservative MP unexpectedly blocked a motion designed to finalise the government’s U-turn.

Speaking on his Moggcast podcast – hosted by Conservative Home – the Commons leader admitted: “I must take my share of responsibility for this – I thought it was the right thing to do.

“I encouraged the prime minister to go down this route and I was wrong, I made a mistake.”

He added: “The question is why did I make this mistake, which in hindsight looks a really obvious mistake to have made. It was because there was a conflation between elements of the process which were difficult – the time taken being one of them – and the personal, and the personal overwhelming was the death of Rose [Paterson].

“I felt that Owen has been punished enough by the death of his wife and therefore allowed this conflation to take place in my mind. And this was clearly a mistake.

“It was not seen by the electorate as being merciful, it was seen as being self-serving, and that has not been helpful to the government or to parliament, and that’s why it will be reversed by the time this Moggcast goes out”.

Mr Rees-Mogg also insisted he had confidence in the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, after the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, apologised on Monday for suggesting she should lose her job on 4 November as he defended the government’s incendiary move.

“Yes, I’ve got confidence in the commissioner,” he said. “As leader of the house I have met her. I think she’s impressive and is fair-minded. I think the role she has is an extremely difficult one, inevitably.”

Asked about his comments on the podcast, the prime minister’s official spokesperson later told reporters that Mr Johnson continues to have confidence in Mr Rees-Mogg as leader of the house, but added: “I wouldn’t comment on any individual discussions he has with members of the cabinet”.

On Sunday, the prime minister admitted he could have handled the sleaze row “better” – but stopped short of apologising.

Speaking at a No 10 press conference on what he would say to those who thought he had “got it wrong”, Mr Johnson replied: “Of course, I think things could certainly have been handled better, let me put it that way, by me.”

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