British PM admits mistake in handling of sleaze

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London

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended a botched bid to overhaul parliament’s standards system that has prompted a weeks-long sleaze crisis for his ruling Conservatives, as he faced multiple grillings from lawmakers on Wednesday.

With opposition parties on the attack and rank-and-file Tory MPs unhappy, the embattled British leader admitted he had made a “mistake” as he faced senior colleagues for two hours of quizzing.

That came shortly after he traded angry exchanges with Labour leader Keir Starmer — and, unusually, House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle — over accusations of improper conduct.

Johnson’s woes on the issue began last month after he tried — and failed — to overhaul the internal system policing MPs, just as Conservative Owen Paterson faced suspension over lobbying ministers for two firms that had him on the payroll.

“It was a total mistake not to see that Owen’s breach of the rules… made any discussion about anything else impossible,” Johnson told parliament’s most senior cross-party watchdog committees.

“The intention genuinely was not to exonerate anybody. The intention was to see whether there was some way in which, on a cross-party basis, we could improve the system.”

“In retrospect, it was obviously mistaken to think that we could conflate the two things,” Johnson added, noting he regretted the move.

Hours earlier, the Commons saw fiery scenes as Starmer branded Johnson a “coward” for refusing to apologise for his role in the saga — a remark the Labour leader later withdrew.

Meanwhile, Johnson clashed with the typically mild-tempered Hoyle over his behaviour during the weekly “prime minister’s questions”, as he tried to turn the tables by demanding answers from Starmer.—AP

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