Jacob Rees-Mogg has been slapped by Tory Speaker Oliver Dowden for calling the row over Downing Street parties a “fluff”.
Addressing campaigners at the Tory conference in Blackpool, the Brexit minister said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had exposed the Partygate row as meaningless.
But when asked about his comments, Mr Dowden insisted that allegations of gatherings breaking the lockdown at No 10 during the Covid pandemic must be taken seriously and cannot simply be dismissed.
Just days before the invasion of Ukraine, Boris Johnson’s position was under threat, as Tory MPs submitted letters demanding a vote of confidence and police launched a criminal investigation into the parties.
But at least two of his backbench critics have since retracted their letters, saying it was not fair to seek to impeach the prime minister as war rages in Europe.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who has withdrawn his appeal for the Prime Minister’s departure, today had the daunting task of welcoming him on stage at the party conference in Aberdeen.
Mr Ross, who said in January that the Prime Minister’s position was ‘no longer tenable’, today hailed his ‘leadership’ in the Ukraine crisis and the pair shared a brief, cold handshake as they that Mr. Johnson was taking the stage.
Mr Rees-Mogg told a meeting hosted by the ConservativeHome website on the sidelines of the Blackpool conference that the Ukraine crisis had brought “a new seriousness” to politics, making disputes over language “woke “insignificant in comparison.
He added: “I would say the same about Partygate. It’s all highlighted for the disproportionate political fluff it was, rather than anything fundamentally serious about the security of the world and the established world order.
Mr Rees-Mogg compared the Partygate affair to the Westland helicopter row which he said rocked Margaret Thatcher’s government 36 years ago but is little remembered now.
“When we look back 36 years at Partygate, people are going to think ‘What were they talking about? They were moving from Covid to Russia and Ukraine, but they were distracted by whether or not the Prime Minister was moving on. five minutes in his own garden,” he said. “It’s basically trivial.”
But when asked if he agreed with his Cabinet colleague’s assessment, Mr Dowden said: ‘I’ve always thought it’s up to the politicians who make the rules to play by the rules and, therefore, I think any allegation that politicians have not done so should be taken seriously.
“There’s this ongoing police investigation, we’ve had Sue Gray’s interim report and the Prime Minister has also expressed remorse about how these kinds of events could have happened. I think it’s fair to I do not reject them.
Mr Rees-Mogg also said the war in Ukraine had provided conservatives with an opportunity to roll back the progress of the “wokery”, which he said had overtaken much of modern life.
The Brexit minister has told campaigners that Putin’s ‘evil’ invasion has created a ‘new seriousness’ in politics, leading to debates over whether particular words and phrases should be avoided as offensive sounded like “nonsense”.
He said conservatives should take advantage of the situation by taking a “robust” approach and refusing to accept the use of “socialist” language, such as saying president rather than president or Beijing rather than Beijing.
However, he immediately disobeyed his own instructions, saying he was prepared to say “Ukraine” rather than “Ukraine” in recognition of the bravery of his people, many of whom oppose the use of the definite article because it suggests that it is part of Russia rather than a country in its own right.
Mr Rees-Mogg said the Ukraine crisis was “a reminder that the world is serious, and there are serious things to discuss and serious and difficult decisions for politicians to make, whether whether to reopen and have new licenses for oil wells in the North Sea, or whether it is to get away from the unrest that has beset huge sections of society”.
In the aftermath of Putin’s invasion, “no one cares” about arguments over words that may offend people, Mr Rees-Mogg said.
“All of this nonsense is shown for its trivial nature, and that we are now looking at serious and difficult decisions that need to be made.”