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Sunday, December 27, 1998 Published at 18:10 GMT

UK Politics

Tories step up pressure

The Conservatives are demanding a full inquiry into the business dealings of former Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson following the furore over the Peter Mandelson home loan affair.

Peter Lilley: We need a full inquiry
Deputy party leader Peter Lilley has written to Cabinet Secretary Richard Wilson asking him to investigate how many ministers had been offered loans by the millionaire businessman after it was revealed that the former Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson has failed to declare a loan from Mr Robinson.

Mr Lilley also attacked Prime Minister Tony Blair for not condemning his Cabinet colleague over the wrangle which led to both men resigning their posts.

He told the BBC: "It is not possible for the prime minister to brush this aside as if his cronies do not have any rules applied to them that apply to everyone else."

He was speaking after Mr Blair told the BBC that Mr Mandelson had made a "mistake" as Trade Secretary by failing to declare a £373,000 loan, obtained as part-payment for his Notting Hill home, from Mr Robinson.

Mr Mandelson and Mr Robinson resigned on Wednesday.

'It should be condemned'

Mr Lilley told the BBC: "When people did wrong in the Conservative Party we condemned it, but what is sad is that Mr Blair tries to minimise it and say it was not really wrong, it was a mistake.

BBC Political Correspondent Emma Udwin: The Prime Minister may be distancing himself from Mandelson
"It is not a mistake to deceive your permanent secretary, parliament, the prime minister and to lie to the press for 18 months about a loan which you knew meant you were vulnerable to a person being investigated by your department.

"That is not a mistake. It is wrong, and it should be condemned as resolutely by Tony Blair as if it had been committed by a member of another party."

Mr Lilley restated his call for a full inquiry into the affair and also said that continuing claims that Mr Robinson helped fund Chancellor Gordon Brown's office in opposition should be investigated.

[ image: Michael Howard:
Michael Howard: "Geoffrey Robinson was the Godfather of New Labour"
On BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, shadow foreign secretary Michael Howard joined calls for an inquiry.

He said: "Peter Lilley has written to the Cabinet Secretary asking for a full inquiry into all Geoffrey Robinson's dealings.

"It's becoming clear now that Geoffrey Robinson was the Godfather of New Labour, offering all sorts of people large loans to buy houses.

"We need to know how many other ministers were indebted to him. What was the true financial relationship between him and Gordon Brown?

"To what extent did he bankroll Gordon Brown's office and is it really the case that the inquiry into Geoffrey Robinson's affairs which is being conducted by the DTI is entirely untainted by all these dealings?"

Mr Howard also criticised the prime minister for not acting sooner.

"If Peter Mandelson made a serious mistake, which he undoubtedly did, so did Tony Blair," he said.

'Speaks volumes about this government'

"Tony Blair knew all there was to be known about this on December 17, six days before Peter Mandelson resigned," said Mr Howard.

"It was only after Mr Mandelson's attempts to hide the truth failed that they decided that he would have to go," he added.

"Mr Blair was doing what he always does, he was waiting to see which way the wind blew. The truth is that this episode speaks volumes about Mr Blair and his government.

"It's a government without any real convictions, without any principles, obsessed with newspaper headlines. It will die by newspaper headlines."

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