SQUIRMING Boris Johnson today refused to apologise for his botched bid to save sleaze-mired Owen Paterson – as he fell behind in the polls.
Speaking for the first time since abandoning a controversial plan to protect the now departed Tory MP, the PM tried to draw a line under the row.
On a hospital visit to Northumberland he said: “Frankly I don’t think there’s much more to be said about that particular case, I really don’t.”
He declined multiple times to say sorry for planning to support Mr Paterson by overhauling Parliament’s entire standards system with a Tory-stacked panel.
And he tried to palm of the thorny issue of whether MPs should be allowed second jobs onto Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
The Paterson sleaze scandal has ignited calls for MPs to be barred from also holding lucrative consultancy jobs.
Dozens of MPs are trousering tens of thousands of pounds each year by advising big firms alongside their parliamentary work.
Cabinet Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan appeared to back a crackdown, saying: “I think the question of whether MPs having jobs that involve lobbying, I think, perhaps should be looked at again.”
Mr Paterson was found in breach on rules by using his position as an MP to benefit two companies that paid him more than £100,000 a year.
Mr Johnson said: “All those kind of things are issues that the Speaker’s panel – whatever he is going to set up – will have a look at.”
The row has seen Sir Keir Starmer leapfrog Boris in the polls in the clearest sign yet voters are angry with the government’s handling.
It will come to the boil in Parliament later during a three-hour debate on the sleaze furore.
The PM is copping heat for sending junior Cabinet Minister Steve Barclay to the Commons rather than going himself.
The Lib Dems who secured the debate have accused him of an “abdication of leadership”.
Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “A fish rots from the head down, and it’s the same with Boris Johnson’s corrupt and sleazy government.”
Downing St insist the PM is not appearing in person because of a pre-arranged visit to the Northumberland hospital.
Yesterday Environment Secretary George Eustice drew flak for dismissing the Paterson row as a “storm in a teacup”.