Boris Johnson has backed down from his discredited “Trumpian” claim that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
The prime minister triggered a backlash on Monday when he made the accusation during the heated Commons debate on the results of the Sue Gray inquiry into parties at Downing Street.
Johnson also refused to withdraw the allegation when given the opportunity during PMQs on Wednesday.
But speaking to broadcasters on Thursday afternoon, the prime minister said he wanted to “clarify” his comments.
“I totally understand he had nothing to do personally with those decisions,” the prime minister said.
“I am not talking about the leader of the Opposition’s personal record when he was director of public prosecutions (DPP)”.
He said: “I want to be very clear about this. A lot of people have got very hot under the collar. I understand why.
“I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole. I do want to clarify that.”
It is a climbdown from Monday when he said Starmer had “spent most of his time [as DPP] prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.
During PMQs this week, Starmer angrily accused Johnson of peddling the “conspiracy theories of violent fascists” with the claim.
Several Tory MPs have cited Johnson’s decision to link Starmer to Savile as a reason for demanding he resign as prime minister.
Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Commons defence committee, said the “false allegation” should be withdrawn.
And Anthony Mangnall, the MP for Totnes and South Devon, said “standards in public life matter” when he called for a no confidence vote in Johnson.
Amber Rudd, the former Conservative home secretary, told ITV that Johnson’s initial claim had been “Trumpian”.
She said it was a “disgraceful thing to say” and a “step too far” for many Conservative MPs.
In 2013, Starmer, as DPP, said Savile could have been prosecuted in 2009 – two years before he died – had police taken victims more seriously.
His comments followed a review of the Savile case by Alison Levitt QC, the legal adviser to the DPP.
Sir Keir said at the time: “I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for the shortcomings in the part played by the CPS in these cases.
“If this report and my apology are to serve their full purpose, then this must be seen as a watershed moment.”
In 2020, fact checking charity Full Fact also looked into the claim that Starmer had stopped Savile being charged in 2009.
It said Starmer was head of the CPS when the decision not to prosecute Savile was made on the grounds of “insufficient evidence”, adding: “The allegations against Savile were dealt with by local police and a reviewing lawyer for the CPS.
“A later investigation criticised the actions of both the CPS and the police in their handling of the situation.
“It did not suggest that Mr Starmer was personally involved in the decisions made.”
Savile – who is now thought to have been one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders – died in 2011 aged 84 having never been brought to justice for his crimes.