A minister has warned that “everyone needs to reflect carefully on the language they use” as Boris Johnson faces increasing pressure to apologise over his discredited claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Saville.
At Prime Minister’s Questions at noon, the PM will make his first House of Commons appearance since Sir Keir was confronted by a mob outside parliament, with some members of the group referencing Mr Johnson’s claims about the Labour leader and Savile, a prolific sex offender.
The prime minister is being urged to use this week’s session to withdraw his comments.
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PM has ‘clarified remarks’
Speaking to Kay Burley on Sky News, Health Minister Ed Argar suggested the prime minister would not be apologising for his remarks at PMQs.
Asked if the PM would say sorry for his jibe accusing the Labour leader of failing to prosecute Savile while head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Mr Argar said: “The prime minister has been very clear – he’s clarified what he was talking about.”
The health minister continued: “He’s clarified that he was talking about Sir Keir in the context of his leadership role at the CPS. Just as, quite rightly, Sir Keir holds him to account for his leadership role over the government.
“That doesn’t mean personal responsibility for individual decisions, but that’s the context, and the prime minister has clarified that.
“And I’ll be honest with you, I suspect that’s what you will hear from the prime minister later.”
Mr Argar later reiterated that the prime minister had “made clear” that his comments about the Labour leader and Saville “were not personal”, but added: “I think everyone needs to reflect carefully on the language they use.”
He also said he agreed with Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle – who issued a statement on the mob incident in the chamber on Tuesday rebuking the PM’s remarks – that “words have consequences”.
PM still dogged by Savile ‘slur’ row
Ahead of what is set to be another fiery session of PMQs on Wednesday, further anger has been directed at the prime minister over his continued refusal to withdraw his remarks or apologise to Sir Keir.
The already simmering row blew up further on Monday night when Sir Keir was mobbed by the group near parliament.
He was bundled into the back of a nearby police car as officers escorted him to safety.
As he was confronted, the Labour leader faced aggressive shouts of “traitor” and accusations of having “let Jimmy Savile off” and of “protecting paedophiles”.
Although he condemned the behaviour of the group, Mr Johnson has continued to resist calls – including from among senior Conservatives – for him to retract his comments about Sir Keir.
The prime minister has, however, sought to “clarify” the remarks. His official spokesman said: “I think the prime minister was making a political point about taking responsibility for organisations as a whole.”
At last week’s PMQs, Sir Keir directly addressed the row as he accused the prime minister of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists to try to score cheap political points”.
Will the PM’s ‘reset’ convince Conservative MPs?
Today’s session of PMQs will also be the first time Mr Johnson has faced MPs since conducting a “reset” of his administration as he battles to save his premiership amid the partygate scandal.
The prime minister has shuffled his ministerial ranks to promote those who have remained loyal to him during the past few turbulent weeks.
Recent days have also seen Mr Johnson recruit new top aides following an exodus of senior advisers from Number 10 in the wake of the partygate allegations.
The prime minister had promised to make alterations to his Downing Street operation following the publication of a damning report, penned by senior civil servant Sue Gray, into claims of lockdown-busting gatherings at the centre of government.
However, Mr Johnson was also forced into changes as one of those departing top aides – policy chief Munira Mirza – quit due to the prime minister’s “scurrilous accusation” about Sir Keir and Savile.
PM promotes loyalists in mini-reshuffle
The prime minister’s promotion of loyalists in a mini-reshuffle on Tuesday also led to fresh controversy after he handed his former chief whip, Mark Spencer, the role of Leader of the House of Commons.
This is despite Mr Spencer currently being subject to a Cabinet Office investigation into claims he told former minister Nusrat Ghani she had been sacked due to concerns about her “Muslimness”.
Mr Spencer, whose new role includes a responsibility for upholding standards in parliament, has branded the allegations “completely false” and “defamatory”.
In being appointed Commons Leader, Mr Spencer replaced fellow Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has been given the newly-created role of minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency.
In turn, the prime minister’s mini-reshuffle also saw Chris Heaton-Harris replace Mr Spencer as chief whip.
With the majority of Mr Johnson’s government changes focussing on the movement of male colleagues, critics branded it a “he-shuffle”.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner posted on Twitter: “Who said dull men don’t fail upwards?”