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UK Labour accuses Johnson's government of ‘dirty tricks’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement about the COP26 climate conference in the House of Commons in London on November 15, 2021. (AFP photo)

Labour has accused Boris Johnson’s government of “dirty tricks” amid charges of sleaze within the prime minister’s party.

The Opposition said ministers sought to “water down” measures to ban MPs taking paid consultancies by removing key elements which would ensure action is taken.

Last week, Johnson was forced to say that "the UK is not remotely a corrupt country" after leading efforts to protect a former cabinet minister from a Commons suspension over lobbying and overhaul Westminster’s standards watchdog.

Backed by Johnson, Conservative lawmakers narrowly voted to halt a proposed 30-day suspension from parliament of Owen Paterson, who had been found guilty of repeatedly lobbying for two firms, which paid him nearly three times his annual salary.

Instead, they pushed through a proposal to delay the suspension and set up a new committee to review his case and the wider system of investigating lawmakers.

It also emerged numerous other MPs had high-paying second jobs, in particular lawyer and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox.

The Commons is set to vote Wednesday on an opposition day motion tabled by Labour urging a ban on “any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.

Johnson, in a surprise move ahead of the debate, wrote to parliament's speaker to say he would support such a ban.

"It is imperative that we put beyond doubt the reputation of the House of Commons by ensuring the rules which apply to MPs are up to date, effective and appropriately rigorous," he wrote.

However, Labour was angry when ministers later tabled an amendment which simply described this as a “viable approach” and expressed support for what the Commons Standards Committee was doing to update the MPs’ code of conduct.

It would remove measures in the original motion requiring the Standards Committee to put forward proposals for implementing the ban and then guarantee time in the Commons for MPs to debate and vote on them.

“Labour has put forward a binding motion to start to clean up our politics after the Tory sleaze scandal. The Conservatives are trying to water that down,” Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said.

“Boris Johnson has been backed into a corner and one minute accepts our motion in a letter to the Speaker but then comes forward with an amendment that will remove the central part that guarantees that action will be taken. This is typical Tory dirty tricks.”

Meanwhile, Johnson will be quizzed by the heads of parliament's cross-party select committees on Wednesday over the scandal among other issues.

The session is typically held three times a year and can prove uncomfortable for under-fire leaders.

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