A veteran Conservative MP has provoked his party’s fury by blocking the report at the heart of the sleaze row that has engulfed the Tories.
Further dismay within party ranks has come with reports that Grant Shapps the transport secretary will announce this week that the HS2 “eastern spur” linking Leeds and Birmingham will be scrapped, risking a backlash from so-called Red Wall Tory MPs.
The government said the link between Birmingham and Leeds would cost £10 billion yet cut just 15 minutes from the journey.
To try and quell the discontent on the backbenches, Shapps will unveil an investment package on Thursday (November 18) worth £96 billion for northern rail infrastructure to increase capacity and cut pollution and overcrowding.
Tories’ Jurassic embarrassment provokes party fury over sleaze row
Conservative MPs are still reeling from being whipped to support the government’s backing of Owen Paterson in a scandal that resulted in a humiliating U-turn just 24 hours later.
The prime minister’s hopes to stem the flow of damaging stories about Tory sleaze have been stymied thanks to the last gasp intervention of veteran Tory blocker Sir Christopher Chope MP.
Chope sparked Tory fury on Monday (November 15) night by calling “object” in the Commons as the government tried to draw a line under the Paterson scandal by getting MPs to endorse the report that found the MP guilty of an egregious breach of lobbying rules.
The Guardian describes Chope’s intervention – that prolongs the focus on Tory sleaze – as a “deeply embarrassing move for the prime minister” while quoting a minister’s scathing rebuke of the backbencher: “He [Chope] has been, for many year, a Jurassic embarrassment – tonight he crossed a line.
“The man should retire and the executive are livid. If he comes into the team room tomorrow, colleagues would want to say two words to him and the second word would be ‘off’.”
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said the “farce was of the Tories’ own making and serves [Boris] Johnson right for trying to sneak a U-turn out at night rather than do the decent thing and come to the house to apologise”.
Sir Christopher Chope – the MP who blocked law on upskirting
Chope’s objection means the Commons will now have a one hour debate to endorse the Paterson report on Tuesday (November 16), providing Labour with an opportunity to attack the government on standards and sleaze.
In 2018 he came to national attention after provoking outrage and fury by blocking a law to ban upskirting – a move that then culture minister Margot James said brought the Conservatives into disrepute.
Parterson row could be ‘pivotal moment of this parliament’
Conservative MP Bim Ofolami – former City lawyer and HSBC executive and now aide to the foreign secretary Liz Truss – has warned his party the Owen Paterson “debacle” may well be a “pivotal moment of this parliament”.
The former Eton College schoolboy said Conservative colleagues are questioning Johnson’s competence given the disastrous handling of the Paterson affair, and in an article for the influential Conservative Home website, questioned: “If we can’t handle this sort of political issue, how can we handle the tough stuff that really matters?”
Ofolami continued: “The danger of this political moment is that the Conservative government may be close to losing a very precious thing – the benefit of the doubt.
“I don’t know for how long this will be the case, but I do not believe that our fall in poll support to the mid 30s will be temporary, nor is it just about this ‘sleaze’ issue.”
Elsewhere, Labour has called for a fresh police investigation into the latest revelations surrounding Johnson’s relationship with Jennifer Arcuri whilst he was london mayor.