Naked Politics Blogger
Chris Grayling, the Lord President of the Privy Council yesterday dismissed rumours that the Justice Secretary Michael Gove was responsible for leaking a story to the Sun newspaper suggesting the Queen supported Brexit.
Following statements over the last few days from Nick Clegg, Lord McNally and Cheryl Gillan explicitly stating they were not the source of the Sun’s story, pressure has mounted on Michael Gove to firmly deny the accusations.
In a heated debate in the Commons, Grayling responded to repeated requests by various MPs that Michael Gove be required to “put the story to bed” by issuing an explicit denial that he was the source of the Sun’s controversial article. Grayling said, “My predecessor, the former Lord President of the Council, said that the story is categorically untrue” and that as a result, there was no need for Michael Gove to deny that he was the source, since that would require “the Justice Secretary to say that something that did not happen did not happen—that just does not make any sense”.
Grayling repeated his defence almost word for word 7 times to the growing impatience from opposition MPs attracting criticism that his evasive answers were adding fuel to the fire of frustration.
Toby Perkins, the Labour MP for Chesterfield accused Grayling of “clinging” to his defence and went as far as suggesting that “the Secretary of State for Justice wants people to believe that he was the source and that the story is true”
Mr Grayling retorted that “Someone cannot be found guilty of an offence when none has taken place” drawing on his earlier warning that “people are innocent unless proven guilty”.
Toby Perkins cited comments from Nicholas Soames, the Tory MP and grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, in which he suggested the alleged leak to the Sun may be tantamount to treason. This drew a raucous of noise from inside the chamber with members being heard jokingly leering “Off with his head” and “Send him to the tower”.
In a political storm that has remained relentless over the past week, The Sun has reaffirmed its claims that it was “completely confident” that the story reflected the Queen’s views, whilst Buckingham palace has taken the matter to IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organization.
In an attempt to put a swift end to the debate, Mr. Grayling said that the argument was “not a matter for anyone in the House or in the Government” and that he did not believe that there was any need for further action.
From the reaction of those in the chamber and the continued round of questioning, it is clear that the questions around Michael Gove’s involvement in the story – whether it is true of not, will continue for the time being. Gove’s apparent reluctance to dispel rumors lays the ground for a new round of attacks suggesting that even if he was not responsible for leaking information to The Sun, he is now using the situation to further his own interests in the campaign to leave the EU.