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Sleaze row rumbles on and Adam Holloway takes on asylum minister

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The ongoing row over MP sleaze seems to even taken the bounce out of Boris.

Political editor looks at the latest on the scandal, a tough quizzing for a minister on asylum seekers and other travel issues...


Among the more surreal moments in the on-going controversy about MPs and their second jobs was the sight of Conservative MPs lining up to support something that barely a week ago they sought to block.

That something was the recommendation of a standards watchdog that the now ex-minister Owen Paterson be suspended for 30 days as punishment for lobbying on behalf of companies he acted as a consultant for.

This recommendation was deemed by Conservatives as too severe and in any case, the government had decided that reforms were needed to the way the Commissioner for Standards operated.

Having dutifully backed the government on these two issues, this week Conservative MPs - on the instruction of party managers - voted against the very thing that they had supported days earlier.

This bizarre about-turn was accompanied by expressions of contrition by ministers and eventually by Boris Johnson himself although his apology was made behind closed doors at a meeting with backbenchers, many of whom did very little to disguise their exasperation at the turn of events.

Boris Johnson seemed to have lost his usual energy this week
Boris Johnson seemed to have lost his usual energy this week

The Prime Minister, never short of a colourful way of describing things, acknowledged that he was to blame as he had been driving the car at the time. “I crashed the car into a ditch,” he said.

It was just the beginning of what ranks as one of the Prime Minister’s most dismal weeks which appears to have drained him of his usual energy and up-beat mood.

Never mind two jobs, if the PM carries on in this way, it might be a case of no jobs.

Meanwhile, the government was on the rack over its efforts to curb the number of would-be asylum seekers crossing the English channel.

Home Secretary Priti Patel sent the asylum minister Tom Pursglove into bat on her behalf to endure an uncomfortable grilling by members of the home affairs select committee over the apparent failures to stem the numbers arriving.

Adam Holloway MP at the Home Affairs select committee (53150087)
Adam Holloway MP at the Home Affairs select committee (53150087)

Pursglove bears the expression of someone that it would be unwise to cross - the political equivalent of Professor Snape if you like.

He had come with a sheath of papers with figures he seemed particularly reluctant to share, notably the one with the number of migrants who had arrived in the UK but had been returned to the country they had come from.

Pressed on this by the Chairman of the select committee Yvette Cooper, he eventually volunteered that the grand total so far this year was five. The year before it had been nearly 300. It made for a testy atmosphere, particularly when the Gravesham MP Adam Holloway got stuck in to ask why it was that Border Force officials weren't stopping small boats and pointing them back in the direction of Calais.

The minister did his best to avoid referring to it directly, but the implication was that since we had left the EU, it had become rather difficult to persuade other countries to help out.

Now, where have we heard that before?

Ashford International Station. Picture: Chris Davey. (52785569)
Ashford International Station. Picture: Chris Davey. (52785569)

To cap a fairly dismal week, the government faced criticism over its integrated rail strategy with the scaling back of plans for high-speed trains between Manchester and Leeds.

There was a predictable slew of punning headlines about the package being shunted into the sidelines; derailed and off track.

Despite the cutbacks, the strategy comes with a price tag of a mere 96 billion pounds.

That’s quite a sum and while it is primarily needed for infrastructure, those interested in the fate of Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International may look enviously on and ask why it is that the government cannot intervene to help restore stopping services at the two stations.

The answer is of course that politically, the government does not want to be seen as state-funding commercial operations - especially when it is not based in the UK.

The argument then might turn to the recent decision of the government to take over Southeastern services as the operator of last resort.

But even that doesn’t really set a precedent. The hard truth is that the longer it is that trains bypass the two stations, the more likely it is that they will drop the international tag.

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