LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to talk about climate change. But his opponents want to focus on corruption.
As the final week of the United Nations climate summit aimed at staving off catastrophic global warming kicked off in Glasgow, Scotland on Monday, Boss Johnson faced a barrage of criticism in London for his attempts to change the system that controls legislators’ standards.
The House of Commons held an urgent debate on political ethics after the government tried to block the suspension of a Conservative legislator found guilty of violating lobbying rules. Opposition parties say the episode has revealed a conservative government that plays quickly and freely with the rules, and they want a public investigation into allegations of corruption.
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“The government’s actions last week tarnished the house’s reputation,” said Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, who initiated the debate.
“This is almost the kind of behavior that we expect to see in the Duma in Moscow, the National People’s Congress in Beijing, and not in the House of Commons.”
Cabinet Minister Stephen Barclay said the government is “listening closely to legitimate concerns” voiced by lawmakers.
However, the Prime Minister was not in the House of Commons to listen. He was in a hospital 250 miles (400 km) from a city in the north of England during what his office said was a long-planned trip.
“The Prime Minister is terrified,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor Party.
Johnson insisted that his government is serious about setting ethical standards for members of parliament.
“I think this is very important,” he said during a visit to the hospital. “We’re going to do our best to get it right. We are going to bring the deputies to justice. Deputies must not break the rules. “
The lobbying episode was the latest in accusations that Johnson and his Conservative government did not abide by the rules that apply to everyone else.
Lawsuits have been filed over government contracts for tens of millions of pounds (dollars) to provide equipment and services during the coronavirus pandemic – often in a rush and without much oversight.
Interior Minister Priti Patel was allowed to keep her job after it was discovered she was bullying employees. Johnson himself has been criticized for agreeing to costly vacations in Mustique and Spain, and is facing an investigation by the standards parliament over the source of the money used to renovate his Downing Street apartment, the prime minister’s official residence. …
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The problem reached a boiling point after the House of Commons standards committee recommended a 30-day suspension from conservative legislator Owen Paterson for lobbying on behalf of two companies – a clinical diagnostics firm and a meat processing company – that paid him over £ 100,000 ($ 137 000) per year. The House of Commons Standards Committee said Paterson’s actions were “an egregious case of paid advocacy” and “hurt the House of Representatives.”
Rather than backing the committee’s decision, as it has done in all such cases for decades, the government has ordered conservative lawmakers to oppose it and instead call for a review of the entire standardization process.
Wednesday’s vote sparked anger – and not just the opposition. In general, supportive newspapers reflected the anger, and the Daily Mail proclaimed, “Shameless MPs are hibernating again.”
“Sloppy” – corrupt or unethical behavior, often for financial gain – is a particularly emotional word in British politics, especially for conservatives. Accusations of “Tory meanness” have been leveled at conservative governments for decades and have sometimes resulted in resignations. The Johnson government has been accused by critics of undermining the ethical norms that have long governed British political behavior.
The reaction of the media and politicians to the Paterson case prompted a sharp turnaround from the government, which said it would seek a cross-party consensus on overhauling the disciplinary process. Paterson left parliament abruptly after 24 years as an MP.
The Paterson scandal has prompted calls from transparency groups to revise rules affecting legislators holding second jobs. Members of Parliament are allowed to earn external income in excess of their annual salary of £ 82,000 ($ 110,000) if they declare it, and this does not lead to lobbying.
Environment Minister George Eustis said the uproar was a “storm in a cup” of little interest to the general public.
But former Conservative prime minister John Major lashed out at Johnson, claiming that the Conservative government’s behavior was “shameful, wrong, and unworthy of this or any other government.”
“There is a common scent in their behavior of ‘we are the masters now,’” a Major told the BBC. “It must stop, it must stop soon.”