Cabinet minister apologises for suggesting sleaze watchdog should quit

Kwasi Kwarteng said standards commissioner should ‘decide her position’ during botched attempt to overrule finding

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 15 November 2021 18:37
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<p>Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng</p>

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has apologised to parliament’s standards commissioner for suggesting she should lose her job.

Mr Kwarteng sparked outrage in a series of broadcast interviews on 4 November, when he defended Boris Johnson’s attempt to overturn Kathryn Stone’s sleaze verdict on Owen Paterson, and suggested the commissioner should “decide her position”.

Within hours of the interviews, the prime minister conducted a humiliating U-turn, withdrawing plans to appoint a Tory-dominated committee to rewrite the House of Commons standards rules amid a furious backlash from public opinion and opposition parties.

Labour demanded an investigation by the PM’s ethics adviser Lord Geidt into Mr Kwarteng’s comments, which the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner suggested could amount to an attempt to bully an independent official.

Now Mr Kwarteng has written to Ms Stone to say that he “should have chosen my words more carefully”.

“I did not mean to express doubt about your ability to discharge your role and I apologise for any upset or distress my choice of words may have caused,” wrote the business secretary.

“I recognise that it is incumbent on ministers to adhere to the high standards of the Ministerial Code, including ensuring that our words are carefully chosen and that we treat others with consideration and respect.

“I therefore regret if the words I used on this occasion have given the impression of having fallen short of these high standards.”

Mr Johnson’s botched attempt to save former Brexit ally Paterson from a proposed 30-day suspension was widely seen as an effort to undermine Ms Stone.

The independent commissioner has sparked Tory anger with a number of investigations, including a finding that Mr Johnson had breached Commons rules by failing to establish how a luxury Caribbean holiday he and wife Carrie took in 2019 was funded.

Ms Stone is also set to announce shortly whether she will launch an investigation into the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s flat above 11 Downing Street.

Speaking the morning after Tory MPs voted to set aside the Commons Standards Committee sanction against Mr Paterson until the completion of a review of the rulebook, Mr Kwarteng suggested that Ms Stone should consider resigning.

“I think it’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact that we’re reviewing the process and we’re overturning and trying to reform this whole process,” the business secretary told Sky News.

“But it’s up to the commissioner to decide her position.”

Pushed on what he meant by “decide her position”, the MP for Spelthorne in Surrey said: “It’s up to her to do that.

“I mean, it’s up to anyone where they’ve made a judgment and people have sought to change that, to consider their position, that’s a natural thing, but I’m not saying she should resign.”

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