Minister Dismisses Boris Johnson's Lack Of Apology Over Tory Sleaze As 'Semantics'

Oliver Dowden said the prime minister's acknowledgement that mistakes were made is "effectively the same thing as an apology".
Co-chair of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden on Sky News on Monday
Co-chair of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden on Sky News on Monday
Sky News

Oliver Dowden tried to laugh off the new criticism levelled at Boris Johnson after the prime minister stopped short of actually apologising for Tory sleaze on Sunday.

Johnson admitted that he “could have handled it better”, which was the closest he has come to actually saying sorry over the government’s brief attempts to overhaul the MPs’ watchdog and relieve Tory MP Owen Paterson of his punishment for breaking lobbying rules a few weeks ago.

Dowden, the co-chairman of the Conservative Party, then defended Johnson to Sky News’ Kay Burley on Monday morning and said the government acknowledged it had made mistakes.

Burley pointed out that the prime minister has still not actually said sorry for trying to remove the MPs’ disciplinary process, to which Dowden laughed and said: “I think you begin to argue about semantics on this.

“The prime minister has said he regrets it, he said mistakes were made.

“But really the prime minister’s focus is actually [government].”

He claimed people have “accepted what we said” about making a mistake and now want the government to be focusing on the “job at hand” like tackling global warming and prioritising the booster jab rollout.

Burley continued: “The point is that the prime minister has not said sorry – you, for the first time as a party, are six points behind Labour for the first time since Keir Starmer got into office.

“That is the public giving you guys a bloody nose saying, ‘don’t treat us like mugs because we’re not’.

“The least you could say is that you didn’t mean to undermine the standards system even if that’s what you did.”

But Dowden maintained that as Johnson has acknowledged mistakes were made, “that’s effectively the same thing as an apology”.

He continued: “We’ve accepted that we’re going to pursue a different course and actually you’ll see from the motion that’s before Parliament today that we are accepting the standards’ recommendations.”

MPs will be voting on whether to remove the amendment to the Standards Committee on Monday afternoon.

He later told BBC Breakfast that the whole sleaze saga began when there was a “conflation between two separate issues”, referring to the specific case of Owen Paterson and the review of the MPs’ disciplinary process.

BBC presenter Dan Walker asked: “Do politicians say sorry anymore? Sorry is a word that goes a long way sometimes.”

Dowden said: “Yes I agree, and I think in essence, if you listen to what the prime minister said, ’we’ve made mistakes and we’ve accepted that.

“We’re moving on and that’s exactly what you’re seeing with the motion in Parliament today.”

The Tory Party co-chair continued having to push back against similar questions as he spoke to LBC, promising that “the government is not sleaze-ridden”.

When Nick Ferrari pointed out that the sleaze allegations are still coming to the surface weeks after the Paterson case first came to light, Dowden simply dismissed it as part of the “news cycle”.

Again dismissing the prime minister’s lack of apology, he told LBC: “We’re in danger of arguing on a pinhead on all this.”