BORIS Johnson has refused to apologise for the Owen Paterson affair – as the Prime Minster was labelled “a coward not a leader” for failing to get on top of the Westminster sleaze scandal.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Johnson was also reprimanded by the Speaker after a host of clashes including accusations he had used unparliamentary language and continually posed questions to the leader of the opposition.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer later fomally withdrew some of his remarks following the heated frontbench exchanges.

Sir Keir told the PM that there was now agreement from all parties that Mr Paterson broke lobbying rules, but said the UK Government “should not have tried to let him off the hook”.

Sir Keir pointed to several members of Mr Johnson’s Government who have apologised for the fiasco and called on the PM to follow suit.

WATCH: 'I'm in charge': Angry Commons Speaker reprimands Boris Johnson at fiery PMQs

He said: “Will he do the decent thing and just say sorry for trying to give the green light to corruption?”

The Prime Minister did not issue an apology but repeated previous remarks that “it certainly was a mistake to conflate the case of an individual member – no matter how sad – with the point of principle at stake”, adding that “we do need a cross-party approach on an appeals process”.

He added: “We also need a cross-party approach on the way forward and that’s why we’ve tabled the proposals that we have."

Sir Keir insisted: “That’s not an apology.” He added: “Everybody else has apologised for him, but he won’t apologise for himself - a coward not a leader.

“Weeks defending corruption, yesterday a screeching last-minute U-turn to avoid defeat on Labour’s plan to ban MPs from dodgy second contracts.

“But waving one white flag won’t be enough to restore trust and there are plenty of opposition days to come, and we will not let the Prime Minister water down the proposals or pretend that it’s job done.

HeraldScotland: Labour leader Keir StarmerLabour leader Keir Starmer

“We still haven’t shut the revolving door where ministers are regulating a company one minute, and working for them the next. There are plenty of cases that still stain this House.”

Sir Keir pressed Mr Johnson further, asking if he would back an investigation into contracts given to Randox or “vote for another cover-up”.

The Labour leader said: “When somebody in my party misbehaves, I kick them out. When somebody in his party misbehaves, he tries to get them off the hook. I lead, he covers up.”

He added: “We know Owen Paterson was a paid lobbyist for Randox, we know that he sat in a call between Randox and the minister responsible for handling health contracts, we know that Randox has been awarded Government contracts worth almost £600 million without competition or tender."

 

Sir Keir said a “full, transparent investigation” is needed, claiming a Labour motion to be laid in the Commons this afternoon would ensure this happens.

He added: “Will he vote for it or will he vote for another cover-up?”

Mr Johnson said: “I’m very happy to publish all the details of the Randox contracts, which have been investigated by the National Audit Office already.”

Speaking after the exchange, Sir Keir was asked to withdraw the word “coward” that he had thrown towards the Prime Minister.

The Labour leader said: “I withdraw it. But he’s no leader.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, told the PM that his plans to clean up the sleaze scandal do not "even scratch the surface”.

He said: “This Tory sleaze scandal has now been hitting the headlines for the past 14 days and, yet, it is pretty obvious that the Prime Minister spent less than 10 minutes coming up with yesterday’s half-hearted, half-baked and already half-botched proposals.

READ MORE: SNP criticise 'half-baked' plans by Boris Johnson to ban MPs being lobbyists or consultants

“These so-called reforms don’t even scratch the surface. This sleaze scandal runs far, far deeper. Month after month the public have witnessed scandal after scandal.”

Mr Blackford asked: “The Prime Minister and his Government have been up to the neck in sleaze. Can the Prime Minister tell us exactly which one of these scandals his proposals would have stopped?”

Boris Johnson replied: “I would just say what I think we can do is pursue a cross-party approach based on the report of the Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life.

“It says amongst other things it’s important that this House should be augmented with outside experience of the world, it’s important that members of this House should have experience of the private sector as he does.”

HeraldScotland: Ian BlackfordIan Blackford

The SNP Westminster leader claimed that the PM “has basically admitted that not one of these Government’s sleaze scandals would have been stopped by the so-called plan”. Mr Blackford added that “the Prime Minister has been at the rotten core of all these scandals”.

He added: “The trail of sleaze and scandal all leads back to the funding of the Conservative Party. Since 2010, the Tory Party has made nine of its former treasurers members of the House of Lords. Every single of them has something in common: they have handed over £3 million to the Prime Minister’s party. That’s the very definition of corruption.

“It’s the public’s definition of corruption.

“Will this Government finally accept this is corruption or is the Prime Minister the only person in the country who has the brass neck to argue it was all one big coincidence?”

Mr Johnson pointed the finger at Mr Blackford, insisting that his “constant attacks on the UK’s levels of corruption and sleaze do a massive disservice to billions of people around the world who genuinely suffer from governments that are corrupt and genuinely have no ability to scrutinise their MPs”.

He added: “This is one of the cleanest democracies in the world and people should be proud of that.”