Jacob Rees-Mogg has refused to correct the record in parliament after he falsely accused a HuffPost UK journalist of “editing” a recording.
Instead the Commons leader on Thursday said calls for him to apologise for the smear were “huff and puff”.
Last week HuffPost UK’s deputy political editor, Arj Singh, published a recording of Dominic Raab telling foreign office staff he was keen to strike trade deals with countries that had poor human rights records.
The foreign secretary subsequently confirmed to MPs this was indeed government policy.
But speaking in the Commons last week, Rees-Mogg branded Singh a “knave or a fool”.
Under the protection of parliamentary privilege, he said baselessly that Raab’s words had been “shockingly distorted by low quality journalism”.
“It is a cheat that journalists sometimes use of editing text, editing a recording, and it was done to Roger Scruton by the New Statesman and it’s now been done to the foreign secretary,” Rees-Mogg told MPs.
HuffPost UK did not edit the recording passed to us and the article quoted it in full.
Scruton, a philosopher and author, won an apology from the New Statesman after the magazine’s deputy editor tweeted “partial” and “truncated” quotations from an interview.
Valarie Vaz, Labour’s shadow leader of the House, on Thursday demanded Rees-Mogg apologise for his incorrect claim. But he refused.
“Arj Singh is the deputy political editor of HuffPost, he is not a cheat, he is not a knave, he is not a fool, there was no clipping,” she said.
“It’s not poor quality online journalism,” Vaz added. “The foreign secretary has admitted it.”
She told Rees-Mogg: “He didn’t actually apologise to the journalist in question. I wonder if he could try again and do so today?”
Rees-Mogg instead doubled-down on his attack. “I’d encourage all journalists to ensure that quotes fully reflect the audio available, and I hope [Vaz] would agree with that and do the same.
He added: “And so let them huff and puff but they will not blow this particular house down.”
In the recording passed to HuffPost UK, Raab said: “I squarely believe we ought to be trading liberally around the world.
“If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future.”
HuffPost UK understands the foreign secretary also used the meeting to name countries where the UK had raised human rights issues with key trade partners.
Downing Street has similarly refused to apologise for Rees-Mogg’s comments. But Boris Johnson’s spokesperson did distance the prime minister from the leader of the House.
“The PM is a staunch believer in the value of the free press and the important role journalists play in our democracy,” he claimed. “These are not comments that the PM would have made.
“These comments were made by Jacob Rees-Mogg and I’m confident that he can explain their intended meaning.”