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Rishi Sunak – latest: Tory civil war deepens as Goldsmith hits back over claim he refused to apologise

Tory peer hits out at Sunak government’s ‘apathy’ – day after Downing Street faced down calls to fire him

Andy Gregory
Friday 30 June 2023 18:18 BST
Moment MPs vote in favour of Partygate report finding Johnson misled parliament

The Tory civil war has grown more fractious as Zac Goldsmith hit out at “misleading” No 10 briefing over his scathing resignation, insisting that Rishi Sunak was “wrong” to claim he had refused to apologise over his Partygate comments.

The outgoing environment minister claimed he was “happy to apologise” for remarks labelled “disturbing” by the privileges committee in their report alleging “interference” from 10 Tories during their investigation which found that Boris Johnson repeatedly lied to parliament.

As he sought to get back on the front foot at a No 10 briefing outlining his plans for NHS reforms, Mr Sunak insisted the Tory peer had resigned after taking a “different course” when asked to apologise for his “incompatible” remarks – despite No 10 insisting just hours earlier that he had the PM’s confidence.

But Lord Goldsmith opened up a new front of criticism for Mr Sunak as he countered the PM’s claims of his refusal to apologise on Friday, insisting the Sunak government’s “lethargy” on climate meant his resignation had been a “long time coming”.


Tory committee members subjected to ‘threats, intimidation and harassment’, says Harman

Tory members of the Privileges Committee have had to withstand a campaign of “threats, intimidation and harassment” designed to challenge the legitimacy of the inquiry, MPs have heard.

Labour veteran and Privileges Committee chair Harriet Harman thanked “every member of the Privileges Committee” for their “outstanding dedication and commitment”, adding: “But particularly the Conservative members of the committee. They have also had to be extraordinarily resilient.

“They have had to withstand a campaign of threats, intimidation, and harassment designed to challenge the legitimacy of the inquiry, to drive them off the Committee and thereby frustrate the intention of the House that this inquiry should be carried out. Yet through all this, they have not given into the intimidation.”

She added: “Attacks by honourable members on other honourable members designed to pre-empt the committee’s findings, frustrate the will of the House, erode public confidence and thereby undermine our democracy. They may themselves be contempt of the House because they are attempting to impede the functioning of the House.

“We will be doing a further report to the House on this shortly inviting consideration of what could be done to prevent this happening in the future.”

(Parliament TV)
Andy Gregory19 June 2023 18:33

Watch: Labour MP asks ‘what would Covid victims say?’

Labour MP asks 'what would Covid victims say?' ahead of Partygate sanctions vote
Andy Gregory19 June 2023 18:33

Senior Tory Tobias Ellwood backs Partygate report

Conservative former minister Tobias Ellwood said he would “vote in support” of the Privileges Committee report.

He told MPs: “Even though Boris Johnson has absented himself from this House, almost to some degree making this report somewhat academic, the nation wants to see its conclusion, the nation who puts us here wants to make sure that this process reaches its conclusion.”

Theresa May, speaking after Mr Ellwood’s intervention, said: “If people see us making rules for them and acting as if they are not for us that trust that I spoke about between the public and Parliament is undermined.

“If they see members of this House trying to save the careers of friends who have been clearly found by due process to have been guilty of wrongdoing, as happened in the case of Owen Paterson, their respect for us is eroded. And without that trust and respect their faith in our very parliamentary democracy is damaged.”

Andy Gregory19 June 2023 18:42

Johnson’s exit was ‘narcissistic howl of a man child’, says Labour MP

Labour’s Dame Angela Eagle branded Boris Johnson’s departure the “narcissistic howl of a man child who won’t see that he only has himself to blame”.

Of the report, she said: “It’s a damning verdict and one which I believe the whole House must not only note but vote to accept.”

She added: “Boris Johnson and his acolytes have engaged in a systematic attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the committee and its work for their own purposes.”

She went on: “It is beneath contempt for serving members of this House and the ex-Prime Minister to accuse the committee of being a kangaroo court or of being biased against him. In my view all those who’ve made such baseless accusations should themselves be referred to the Privileges Committee for contempt of this House.”

She added: “He has left in disgrace, he has run from accountability for his lies and untruths. There has been no self-reflection, no apology, no acceptance of a shred of responsibility, just the narcissistic howl of a man child who won’t see that he only has himself to blame.

“So egregious and so damaging for public trust in our democracy, Boris Johnson and his cheerleaders’ actions, it’s now imperative that this report is accepted.”

Andy Gregory19 June 2023 18:47

Johnson’s former aide speaks out in defence of ex-boss

Lia Nici, former parliamentary private secretary for Boris Johnson, defended her old boss, saying the “prime minister is not the caretaker of the building, it is not their job to go round and look in rooms and decide who may be working and who may not be working”.

The Tory MP for Great Grimsby said: “I have to speak in the House today because I cannot see where the evidence is where Boris Johnson misled Parliament knowingly, intentionally or recklessly ... The reality is - is that Boris Johnson did not knowingly or intentionally mislead this House.”

She went on: “No 10 is full of police officers, full of security people. Why did nobody report this to the prime minister so that he was aware of it.”

Intervening, Labour’s Jess Phillips asked: “Do think that there’s any chance that Boris Johnson could also have lied to her?”

Ms Nici claimed: “Actually, no I don’t believe he did ... sadly I believe that unelected officials, some of them, because many, many are very, very good and very professional, but some of them made a choice not to inform the then prime minister because they wanted to cover their own backs, I’m very, very sad to say.”

She said: “Sadly this is all becoming part of a kind of political opportunism for those people who don’t like Boris Johnson’s approach.”

Andy Gregory19 June 2023 19:19

Andrea Leadsom: We have to back a properly constituted committee

MPs should “back a properly constituted committee” by voting in favour of the Privileges Committee report on Boris Johnson, Tory former Cabinet minister Dame Andrea Leadsom has said.

She told Channel 4 News: “In my view, as a former leader of the Commons but also a real believer in the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, we have to back a properly constituted committee.

“And it’s not right to simply say, ‘well, I don’t like its findings so I’m just going to bring into question its legitimacy’.”

She also said she hoped enough MPs would support it so it would not need to come to a vote.

“I’m hopeful that this will go through on the nod rather than having a division.

“I want all members to accept the validity of that committee’s findings.”

Katy Clifton19 June 2023 19:43

Rees-Mogg says removing Boris’ pass ‘ridiculous'

Conservative former cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was legitimate to challenge the findings of the Privileges Committee, and dismissed removing Boris Johnson’s parliamentary pass as “ridiculous”.

Addressing the proposed 90-day suspension from the Commons, said: “A vindictive sanction, it seems to me, which they can’t implement because Mr Johnson has left Parliament. So they go from the vindictive to the ridiculous with not allowing him a parliamentary pass.”

Addressing a comment from Labour MP Harriet Harman, who chaired the committee when it was producing the report, Sir Jacob said: “Suddenly we discover in this transparent approach that there was a secret agreement that her involvement was all right. Well, I was in the Government at the time, I never heard that this had happened.”

He also told MPs: “It is absolutely legitimate to criticise the conduct of a committee, to criticise the members of a committee. That is politics.

“Our politics is adversarial… it is open to us within this chamber to accuse people within the bounds of good order of saying things that we disagree with. Outside this chamber freedom of speech is paramount.”

He added: “We must defend the right of freedom of speech. And, frankly, if politicians cannot cope with criticism you wonder what on earth they are doing with a political career.”

Katy Clifton19 June 2023 19:44

Watch: Ian McKellen spotted in House of Commons

Ian McKellen spotted in parliament during debate on Boris report
Katy Clifton19 June 2023 19:48

Nick Fletcher: ‘We must remember Boris is human too'

Conservative Nick Fletcher, who said he will vote against the motion, urged MPs to remember Boris Johnson is “human” and that during Covid, he “nearly died”.

The MP for Don Valley told the Commons: “We must also remember he is a human, too. In addition to running the country, he dealt with the highs and lows that this life brings. During Covid, he nearly died. He got married. He lost his mum and had a child.”

He insisted committees like the Privileges one are “set up to fail”, adding: “Let me use a football analogy: if Man City’s star player had to sit in front of seven of his peers for the hearing, how fair would it be if three of the committee were Man United players? Not very. I think if we are going to use MPs as committee members, which I think we should, then they must be of the same party.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP for Guildford Angela Richardson said: “I deplore the attacks on members of the Privileges Committee. Whether they come from external commentators or within this House. The work of the committee is thankless, there is no need to make it potentially dangerous, too. The additional security that was needed is deeply shameful.”

She told MPs that Harriet Harman, the Labour chairwoman of the Privileges Committee, is “an exceptional parliamentarian”, adding: “I also deplore the attacks on the member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), who is a voluntary magistrate, as well as serving his constituents in this place. Shame, shame, shame on those who are working to undermine him and his future prospects.”

Katy Clifton19 June 2023 20:04

Tory MP says he is ‘so over Boris'

A Conservative MP has claimed he is “so over Boris”, as he said telling the truth was a “keystone” of parliament.

Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely told MPs he would vote for the report, but said: “I am so over Boris, and I am pretty over lockdown as well. I think sometimes, and really the point I want to make tonight is that we are in danger of making Westminster look small and petty.”

While he described politicians telling the truth as “a keystone to this place”, he added: “The scandal of lockdown, or Covid and how we dealt with it, is not only whether there were ‘wine Fridays’ and cake in Downing Street, and people in protest carrying about pints of milk, but actually whether lockdown worked, the cost of lockdown in terms of lives, in terms of learning, in terms of sanity, in terms of money, and in terms of truth.”

Andy Gregory19 June 2023 21:08

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