Boris Johnson has refused to withdraw his controversial claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, the Labour leader accused Johnson of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists to try to score cheap political points”.
Sir Keir said: “Theirs is the party of Winston Churchill. Our parties stood together as we defeated fascism in Europe.
“Now their leader stands in the House of Commons parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists to try to score cheap political points. He knows exactly what he is doing. It is time to restore some dignity.”
But in response, the Prime Minister defended his comments, which were initially made in heated Commons exchanges on Monday following the publication of the Sue Gray report on lockdown parties in Downing Street.
However, he noticeably dialled down the rhetoric today as he said: “I don’t want to make heavy weather of this but I am informed that in 2013 he apologised and took full responsibility for what had happened on his watch. That was the right thing to do."
The prime minister has come under fire for his comments, which have been branded “dangerous and baseless” by his own MPs.
Johnson made the false claim, which it is believed is also shared online by far-right conspiracy theorists, following the release of part of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Partygate allegations at Downing Street.
He accused Starmer of failing to to prosecute paedophile Savile while head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), when in fact he had not been the reviewing lawyer for the case.
Watch: PM uses Jimmy Savile quip to criticise Starmer in Commons
The claim - which the prime minister is able to make under the rules of parliamentary privilege - sparked an immediate backlash and comes at a time when Johnson is trying to appease his own MPs to save his political skin.
Senior Conservatives have rebuked Johnson.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood cited the Savile comments on Wednesday as he called on Johnson to resign and revealed he had written a letter of no-confidence on his leader.
Speaking on Sky News, he said: “Who advised the Prime Minister to say this? We’re better than this, we must seek to improve our standards and rise above where we are today.”
Tory former chief whip Julian Smith said: “The smear made against Keir Starmer relating to Jimmy Savile yesterday is wrong and cannot be defended. It should be withdrawn.
“False and baseless personal slurs are dangerous, corrode trust and can’t just be accepted as part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.”
Watch: Michael Gove says Boris Johnson has "nothing to apologise for" over his comments about Jimmy Savile
However, Johnson ally Michael Gove said the PM had nothing to apologise for. "This is a uniquely sensitive issue and it does need to be handled with care," he said. "I listen with enormous respect to those who act for victims of the actions of a terrible, terrible criminal.
“But – and it’s not a subject that I want to dwell on because it is uniquely sensitive – it is the case that the CPS apologised for the handling of this case and what happened in 2009, and I think we should acknowledge that an apology was given at the time and respect that.”
He added: “Keir Starmer acknowledged that mistakes had been made by the organisation of which he was head, to his credit. He was very clear about those mistakes.”
Victims have also come forward to slam the claims made by the PM.
One of Savile's victims, identified as Miss A, told LBC: "To have the PM say this, I was furious.
"It was like he was using it as a flippant thing for other people's purposes.
"It triggered all the flashbacks, the memories.
"I can't begin to tell you how upset I was. It was so unnecessary."
Watch: Boris Johnson’s Savile claim ‘a ridiculous slur’, says Keir Starmer