Tony Blair escaped resignation after Cash for Honours scandal with interview as witness

PMQs: Keir Starmer asks Boris Johnson if he will resign

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Mr Johnson was again urged to resign by a number of MPs today during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQS) following the freshest revelation that he and his staff allegedly gathered to celebrate his birthday during the first UK lockdown. Facing down Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Johnson was asked whether he would abide by the ministerial code, which says ministers must resign if they knowingly mislead Parliament. Mr Johnson said “of course”, but that he would not comment on the ongoing police and civil service investigations into the numerous parties that have come to light in recent months.

A number of other members of the House called for Mr Johnson to resign, including the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Westminster leader, Ian Blackford.

While many in his own party have recoiled over the latest party revelation, others have jumped to Mr Johnson’s defence.

This included Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, who on Tuesday drew attention to the Labour Party’s various historic scandals in his Commons speech, including the Cash for Honours scandal, during which Sir Tony was interviewed by the police twice.

He asked the Paymaster General whether he agreed that, compared to the Cash for Honours scandal, along with “trying to prosecute a former First Minister of Scotland when they were told there was no evidence to do so, and compared with taking money from Chinese spies, that eating a piece of birthday cake is a relatively minor offence.”

Others have also drawn attention to Sir Tony’s tangle with the police, like Harry Cole, political editor of The Sun, who this week tweeted: “In Jan 2007 the Met wanted to interview Blair under caution over cash for honours.

“But Channel 4 reported he told them he would have to resign if so.

“So they did it as a witness.”

The scandal began in March 2006, when several men nominated for life peerages by Sir Tony were rejected by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

It was later revealed that they had loaned large amounts of money to the governing Labour Party, at the suggestion of Labour fundraiser, Lord Levy.

A loophole in electoral law meant that, although anyone donating even small sums of money to a political party must declare it as a matter of public record, those loaning money at commercial rates of interest did not have to make a public declaration.

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The issue came to the forefront of media attention in the spring of 2006, when it emerged millionaire Chai Patel had been nominated for a peerage after donating £100,000 to the Labour and making a secret loan of £1.5million.

Then it emerged that a further two millionaires who gave secret loans were also nominated by Sir Tony for peerages, and the probe then widened to include other parties.

Labour later revealed it had been secretly loaned £14million ahead of the previous election, while the Conservatives had borrowed £16m from 13 wealthy backers and the Liberal Democrats said they owed £850,000 from three backers.

The question was not if the money lending was illegal, but whether people were attempting to buy influence.

Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson resigned in 1976 after it emerged wealthy donors had given to the party, a scandal known as the Lavender List.

Following complaints under three different sets of legislation, the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation in 2006.

The parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee also began an inquiry, although MPs agreed to postpone it until police completed enquiries.

Sir Tony was himself questioned by officers as a witness on December 14, 2006.

Then in January 2007 his close aide Ruth Turner was arrested in a dawn raid, questioned over perverting the court of justice and released on bail.

When Lord Levy was arrested in January 2007, Sir Tony was again questioned as a witness rather than as a suspect.

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It culminated in police announcing in late July 2007 that no-one would face charges in connection with the affair.

The news provoked relief in Labour circles, but critics reacted furiously and asked why a 16-month investigation had been allowed to continue for so long without producing any positive results.

The Cash for Honours saga cast a shadow over the final years of Sir Tony’s time in office.

He is thought to be the first instance of a Prime Minister being questioned in a criminal investigation.

While his departure took the heat out of the affair, his successor, Gordon Brown, was left to pick up the pieces, including finding a way to fill a hole and raise money for the next election, aware that donors would be put off by the debacle.

Many have drawn comparisons between today’s ‘partygate’ and Cash for Honours.

But, a source involved with interviewing Sir Tony told Robert Mendick and Daniel Capurro, in an analysis piece for the Daily Telegraph, claimed that the two instances were completely different.

They said: “The cases are totally different.

“Blair was a Prime Minister who you couldn’t bring down.

“He was like a God, an elder statesman even after the Iraq war.

“But Boris is already so damaged.

“We were told if we interviewed the Prime Minister under caution, it would be a resignation issue.

“That is what we were told with Blair.

“I don’t think Boris has the reputation that would worry police and prevent that happening this time.”

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