Johnson government 'politically corrupt' says Sir John Major
- Credit: PA Media - file photo
Former prime minister Sir John Major – and a former Cambridgeshire MP - launched an extraordinary broadside at Boris Johnson's Government over the Owen Paterson row.
The 78-year-old Conservative former premier said the conduct was "shameful" and had trashed the reputation of Parliament.
And he suggested the Johnson administration was "politically corrupt" over its treatment of the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister was forced to U-turn over a plan to prevent Mr Paterson facing a 30-day Commons suspension for a serious breach of lobbying rules.
Mr Paterson subsequently quit as an MP after the Government abandoned an attempt to set up a Tory-dominated committee to re-examine his case and the wider Commons standards regime.
Sir John, who was MP for Huntingdon from 1979 to 2001, said: "I think the way the Government handled that was shameful, wrong and unworthy of this or indeed any government.
“It also had the effect of trashing the reputation of Parliament."
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The former prime minister told BBC Radio 4's Today the action of the current administration was "damaging at home and to our reputation overseas".
Sir John, whose own government in the 1990s was undermined by sleaze rows, said: "When that happened, I set up the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life to stop it, which has been a huge success.
"The striking difference is this: in the 1990s I set up a committee to tackle this sort of behaviour.
"Over the last few days, we have seen today's government trying to defend this sort of behaviour.
"Sleaze is unacceptable, was unacceptable when I was there, and I suffered a great deal of pain and anguish over it.
"It's unacceptable today, and it needs to be stopped."
He suggested there was an arrogance at the heart of Mr Johnson's administration.
"There is a general whiff of 'we are the masters now' about their behaviour."
The Government has a working majority of around 80 and Sir John suggested that had allowed Mr Johnson to treat Parliament "with contempt".
Sir John said it would be "rather extraordinary" if Mr Paterson was offered a peerage and expressed doubt that it would be approved.