Munira Mirza: why has Boris Johnson’s policy chief resigned - and what did she say about Jimmy Savile slur?
Munira Mirza said a remark made by Boris Johnson to Keir Starmer about Jimmy Savile was ‘inappropriate and partisan’
In a fresh blow to the Prime Minister, his long-term ally Munira Mirza was said to have quit in outrage at his “inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse”.
Mr Johnson once praised Ms Mirza as a “brilliant thinker” and listed her as one of the five women who had influenced and inspired him the most.
Downing Street said in a statement it was “very sorry” that she was quitting, as Tory MP Andrew Griffith was appointed to fill her role.
This is what you need to know about it.
What did Boris Johnson say about Jimmy Savile?
On Monday as he battled to defend himself from the partygate row, Mr Johnson claimed Sir Keir “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.
He was widely criticised for the comment.
The Prime Minister had been refusing to withdraw the claim, and maintained his stance in an interview with The Sun by saying the slur was “fairly accurate”.
During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, he went on to point to the fact that Sir Keir apologised while DPP in 2013 for the CPS having failed to bring Savile to justice four years earlier.
But there is no evidence that Sir Keir had any personal role in the failure to prosecute the man who was one of Britain’s most egregious sex offenders before his death in 2011.
The Labour leader accused Mr Johnson of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists to try to score cheap political points”.
However, on Thursday Boris Johnson has sought to “clarify” his widely criticised and debunked claim that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile when he was director of public prosecutions (DPP).
Speaking to broadcasters, the Prime Minister said: “I want to be very clear about this because a lot of people have got very hot under the collar, and I understand why.
“Let’s be absolutely clear, I’m talking not about the Leader of the Opposition’s personal record when he was DPP and I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions.
“I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole.
“I really do want to clarify that because it is important.”
What did Munira Mirza say in her resignation letter?
The Spectator reported that Ms Mirza’s resignation letter stated: “I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice.
“There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion. This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse. You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.
“You are a better man than many of your detractors will ever understand which is why it is so desperately sad that you let yourself down by making a scurrilous accusation against the Leader of the Opposition.”
Her letter ends with the line: “I appreciate that our political culture is not forgiving when people say sorry, but regardless, it is the right thing to do. It is not too late for you but, I’m sorry to say, it is too late for me.”
Ms Mirza, who had various jobs in the culture and charity sectors, including at the Royal Society of Arts, the Policy Exchange think tank, and the Tate, before being made arts adviser to Mr Johnson, aged 30, when he was elected as Mayor of London in 2008.
During Mr Johnson’s time at City Hall, she was promoted, in 2012, to the deputy mayor for education and culture, and was described by his former head of communications at City Hall Guto Harri as “the perfect counter to those critics who suspected the worse of Boris”
Ms Mirza was listed by Mr Johnson in 2020 as one of the top five women who had inspired him.
She was on the list along with campaigner Malala Yousafzai, his grandmother, queen of the British Iceni tribe Boudicca, and singer/songwriter Kate Bush.
There were questions over whether Dougie Smith, who is Ms Mirza’s husband, will also quit as an aide to No 10.
What has been said about her resignation?
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was asked about her resignation and Mr Johnson’s remarks while appearing at a press conference in No 10 over the cost of living crisis.
“She was a valued colleague. I very much enjoyed working with her and I’m sorry to see her leave Government. I’ll miss working with her,” Mr Sunak said.
“With regards to the comments, being honest I wouldn’t have said it and I’m glad the Prime Minister clarified what he meant.”
The resignation of one of his most loyal allies, who has worked with him for more than a decade, further weakens the Prime Minister as he battles to remain leader.
Dominic Cummings, the former chief aide to No 10 who is agitating for the Prime Minister’s removal, said her resignation is an “unmistakable signal the bunker is collapsing”, adding that the “PM is finished”.
The Tory revolt against Mr Johnson over allegations of lockdown-breaching parties in No 10 was growing, with 13 Conservative MPs calling for his resignation.
A message from the editor:
Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.