Labour’s Rachel Reeves has declared that “the fish rots from the head down” while highlighting the “sewage of allegations” made against Boris Johnson in recent weeks and days, including by his own ex-adviser Dominic Cummings.
Michael Gove responded to an urgent question today by the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, who described as “despicable, cruel and callous” the Prime Minister’s alleged comment that he would rather see “bodies pile up in their thousands” than a third lockdown.
Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “There must be no bullying and no harassment, no leaking, no misuse of taxpayer money, and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
“These words are from the Prime Minister’s foreword to the ministerial code. I don’t know if he believed them then, but he is trampling all over them today. The Prime Minister is now corrupting the standards of public life expected in high office.
“As he tries to cover up payments for the luxury refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, possibly breaking the law through undeclared loans. As for leaks, we are now seeing the pipes burst with the sewage of allegations. The fish rots from the head down.”
The Labour frontbencher who leads on Tory ‘cronyism’ for the opposition party asked her opposite number Gove:
- When the government will publish the register of ministers’ financial interests, which is supposed to be released twice a year but has not been since July 2020;
- Who paid the invoices for the Prime Minister’s flat refurbishment in the first place, and when were those funds repaid;
- When the vacancy for the independent adviser on ministerial standards will be filled, and whether they will be given powers to trigger independent investigations;
- Whether the minister will apologise for “the stomach-churning comments” reported today;
- Whether the government will urgently announce a public inquiry into its handling of the pandemic.
“This is all about conduct, character and decency. Our country deserves so much better than this,” Reeves said. Gove replied that past Prime Ministers have used taxpayer funds to refurbish the flat. But they did not spend £200,000 as Johnson reportedly has done.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and minister for the Cabinet Office said Johnson has “spent his own money” on refurbishing his Downing Street flat, and told parliament that the appointment of the independent adviser is due in days.
Asked directly by the SNP’s Stephen Flynn whether Johnson’s reported “bodies pile high” comment was indeed made, Gove replied that “the idea he would say any such thing I find incredible” and “I never heard language of that kind”.
Pressed further by Angela Eagle, who said either Cummings is a “liar and fantasist” or Johnson is “not being straightforward”, Gove replied that “recollections may vary” – quoting Buckingham Palace’s response to claims of racism by Meghan Markle.
The parliamentary exchanges came after top civil servant Simon Case gave evidence to an MPs’ committee on matters relating to the refurbishment and leaks. He was accused of sounding “like a badly scripted version of Yes Minister“.
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